Saffron Thistle

Latin Name: Carthamus lanatus

Image from Wikispecies

Image from Wikispecies

Origin: Native of southern Europe and Mediterranean to central Asia.

Family: Asteraceae.

Known Hazards: None known.

Habitat: Amongst rocks, in dry hills and uncultivated ground.

Edibility Rating: 1 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 1 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Erect annual thistle to 1 (rarely to 1.5) m high. Stems ribbed, branched above, hairless to downy. Leaves variable; basal leaves in a rosette, lanceolate, initially with few lobes but older leaves more dissected, to 20 cm long and to 5 cm wide; stem leaves to 11 cm long and to 5 cm wide, usually hairless but some plants with hairy leaves, base stem-clasping and not on a leaf stalk. Seeds ovoid, grey-brown.
Flowers: In solitary heads to 2 cm wide surrounded by spiny bracts (involucral bracts) to 5 cm long. Heads made up of small flowers (florets) to 3 cm long. Flowers late spring to autumn. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by stems round in cross-section; leaves lanceolate and similar bracts around flowerheads, deeply toothed with lobes ending in spines; all flowers within heads tubular and yellow; seeds 4–6 mm long, about 3 mm wide, hairless, 4-angled, apex with linear scales to 1 cm long.

Dispersal: Spread by seed. Matures with cereal crops and seed is harvested with the grain. Dry seeds tangle in wool.

Edible Uses

An edible oil is obtained from the seed.


Medicinal Uses

Anthelmintic; Diaphoretic; Febrifuge. The plant is anthelmintic, diaphoretic and febrifuge.

Other Uses

An oil is obtained from the seed, though the report gives no more details.

Notes: Hardy weed of cultivation that displaces more useful species in poor pasture. Arguably the most widespread thistle in Australia. Only considered an important weed in Australia. The spines contaminate wool, and make handling contaminated sheep painful. Seldom eaten, but seeds are oil and protein rich.

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