March and April are perfect months to forage for thistle. I know the plant by the name Holy Thistle (Silybum marianum), but it is also called Lady's Thistle, Marian Thistle, Mary Thistle, Milk Thistle and Wild Artichoke. Regardless of what you call it, it's health benefits are amazing and the taste is outstanding.
Thistle has many medicinal properties. It is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic. It is immunostimulating and hepaprotective.
Thistle is indicated for alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver poisoning and viral hepatitis. It is beneficial for adrenal disorders and IBS. Thistle offers protection to the liver when taking strong medication. It helps prevent Candida and food allergies.
Women with hormone-dependent conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, breast, ovary, or uterine cancer should not take thistle due to its possible estrogenic effects. Men with prostate cancer should not take thistle without first talking to their doctor.
I think, whenever possible, it is best to eat the whole food. Thistle is often considered a weed so it is definitely not hard to find this time of year. When harvesting, wear long sleeves and gloves. It is as prickly as it looks! The leaves and stalks are edible. The leaves can be steamed just like spinach. My favorite is the stem. Peel the stalk (it is stringy like celery). Chop and put in salad – lettuce, chicken or tuna. I have also thrown a handful of raw stalk in okra cornbread. Delicious!
If you want the benefits of thistle year-round you can make a tincture. To do this you will need to harvest the thistle seeds. When the seed head turns brown, cut it off the plant and place in a paper bag. Store in a cool, dry spot 48 to 72 hours. Lay them out on a screen on a table. Carefully brush the seeds out of the head onto the screen. Remove any debris. Store thistle seeds in a clean container.
To make the tincture you need ¾ cup thistle seeds, 2 cups 100-proof alcohol (divided), and 2 cups water (divided). Process seeds in a blender or herb grinder. Pour the processed seeds into a sterilized pint-sized canning jar. Pour 1 cup alcohol and 1 cup water over seeds and stir to mix. Close the jar with a sterilized lid and ring. Store in a cool, dark place for 3-5 weeks. Shake daily and make sure the seeds stay covered with the liquid.
Make a reserve container of liquid by mixing the remaining alcohol with remaining water. Use when the liquid level drops and your thistle seeds are no longer saturated.
After 3 to 5 weeks, strain liquid into small containers. Discard seeds, store extract in sealed containers.
Remember, tincture are much stronger than the whole food. One to three drops in a cup of hot herbal tea once or twice a day is sufficient.