Botanical name: Cynara cardunculus
In agriculture, the thistle is a sign of disorder and abandonment and indicates not so much a sterile soil as a good soil that has not been properly cared for.
Origins and history of thistle
In many ways it is considered a weed that damages economically useful crops, so much so that in countries like Great Britain, bills similar to those already existing in Australia are thought of. To prevent its spread, twenty years ago the Australian Parliament approved a legislation that imposes heavy penalties on those who do not destroy the thistles present on their land within 14 days of their appearance.
Yet, this typically Mediterranean plant was listed by Pliny in his "Natural History" among the prized vegetables. The first traces of which we have news place it in Ethiopia and Egypt, where the sprouts and seeds were used in the production of cheeses.
This spontaneous plant which belongs to the composite family, the same as the artichoke of which it is considered the poor brother, has differentiated itself into an impressive multitude of varieties, about 23,000. This has allowed it to adapt to the most diverse environments, from the harsh alpine or northern European ones, to the more arid ones. Some varieties grow spontaneous and wild, others have found a commercial value and are cultivated: they are those without thorns (but not always), have wide and thick ribs, which can be green or white, and erect posture, which facilitates operations cultivation. Among these, the Thorney of Tours, the Full Unarmed Giant and the Giant of Chieri are the tastiest.
Nutritional and beneficial properties
Thistle varieties all have a taste similar to that of artichoke and celery, a moderate protein and water content, they are rich in flavonoids and fatty acids.
The Cynara Cardunculus and Milk Thistle contain silibinin, a purifying substance that facilitates liver function.
The presence of mineral salts is also relevant, such as sodium and potassium, the latter particularly beneficial for blood circulation. In addition, the bitter taste of the plant is given by quinine, used in disorders related to food. The contribution in fiber makes this vegetable useful in regulating intestinal functions. The edible part consists of the long stems, or ribs, which can measure up to 150 cm, and the tender leaves that develop in the central part. The tastiest stems are white and compact while the green ones are more bitter. It is the rural familiarity that knows all the secrets of the thistle.
Use of thistle in the kitchen
Based on the spiny vegetable is the traditional Christmas soup prepared in the Benevento area, with the leaves washed and boiled the day before to eliminate excess bitterness and flavored with chicken broth, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. To prevent the leaves from darkening during cooking, add the juice of half a lemon to the water.
The plant also binds very well with bechamel when it is au gratin in the oven, or with salted anchovies in bagna càuda , a typical Piedmont dish that also dedicates a festival to white thistle.
Boiled, drained, passed in batter, it can be browned and fried. Only the Cardo Gobbo di Nizza Monferrato variety is eaten raw in pinzimonio.
The Beato Cardo, Carbenia Benedicta, is mentioned in all the treatises on the plague for the healing properties of the distillate of its leaves, whose virtues have been praised as remedies for many ills in the recipe books of the medical plants of the '500 and' 600. According to a legend, it was Emperor Frederick III who gave the name to the variety, when an infusion of its leaves managed to cure a headache.
Another legend would have it that the white streaks of the leaves have remained in memory of the mother's milk of the Madonna fleeing to Egypt. Its pink flower is also the national emblem of Scotland. The legend tells of how around 950 AD. the Norwegian raiders had invaded the Scottish land, but, as they crawled towards a camp, one of them put his bare foot on a thistle. The piercing cry of pain that followed woke the Scots and allowed them to defend themselves from the invasion. As a sign of thanks, and in memory of that episode, the plant was called "Guardian Thistle", adopted as national symbol and inserted in the silver coins of James III in 1470.
Later, his successor James V, called Order of the Thistle the highest Scottish honor.