A Thistle in the Garden
When is a thistle not a weed? Well, I guess when
it’s edible. Then what is a Cardoon? Well, it must be a
weed when I grow it, because it certainly is not edible, never
the less, it is a thistle. Related to the Artichoke - perhaps
sharing a common ancestor or being the ancestor of the Artichoke,
depending on whom you read - the Cardoon is in this county an
obscure food plant.
My first gardening adventure with this thistle has
yielded nothing edible, but has provided seeds with which to try
again. Can they be grown here – that remains the question.
I followed the instructions for growing this native
from North Africa, via Italy and France, but as it turns out,
the plants require something different here to be edible. If you
plant them in early spring, they mature during the heat of summer
and are bitter enough to curdle your milk. The plants struggled
through June, full of perky promise every morning but drooping
like an over heated dog under the afternoon sun.
Unlike their Artichoke relatives, you grown them
as annuals from seed and harvest the blanched leaves when young,
tender and sweet. Problem is that warm temperatures make the plants
bitter, another reminder of the subtleties of adapting a plant
to the local conditions of seasons and soils.
Perhaps the next crop this fall and winter will
uphold the gourmet reputation of this obscure thistle –
perhaps if I master the horticultural and culinary challenges,
then perhaps, there will be something new on the table, if not
- there’s always something to learn in the garden where
nature serves a dose of knowledge and humility with every bite.
till next time,
Doña Ana County Extension Master Gardener