Bull Thistle - Cirsium vulgare




"There are several plant genera commonly named "thistles", and the reason for this is they look very similar and bear prickles. The most common ones are the Cirsium and Carduus genera. When trying to identify a bull thistle-like plant with prickles, one should first check to make sure it is really a Cirsium, or not. The easiest way is to see if the pappus bristles have conspicuous feather-like hairs, in which case it is a Cirsium, or if the bristles are missing or very tiny, which is a feature of the genus Carduus."

"There are at least five large-headed, native thistles (inflorescences longer than 2 cm) which can be mistaken for the bull thistle. They can be separated from the exotic bull thistle based on the absence of, or only very short, wings on the stem. Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) is another spiny plant with pinkish flowerheads which grows in similar habitat conditions. However, its larger, fewer inflorescences, and the broader leaves and wings on the stem can readily separate it from bull thistle. Additionally, while bull thistle flowerheads and leaves can be woolly, the Scotch thistle is more pronouncedly woolly-hairy and the whole plant is rather silvery as compared with the greener bull thistle."

"The exotic milk thistle (Silybum marianum) can also be mistaken for the bull thistle, however, its range is rather restricted to a few localities in southwestern British Columbia. The conspicuously white mottled leaves and the fewer involucral bracts with long spines in the milk thistle readily differentiates this species from the bull thistle."

"The inflorescence of burdock species (Arctium) might be mistaken for bull thistle because of the involucral bracts with hooked tips and the purple flowers. They can be readily separated, however, based on the large basal leaves and the absence of the prickles from the leaves."

Note Author: Anna-Maria Csergo, February 2011. [E-flora]


Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

"The Chinese use thistle teas and decoctions to treat appendicitis, internal bleeding, and inflammations." [Meuninck EWPUH]

Folk Uses

"Gerard reported that “… being stamped before the floure appeareth, …, and the juice pressed forth, causeth the haire to grow where it is pilled off, if the place be bathed with the juyce”. Whoever would have thought of thistles as a hair restorer? But that is not all, for he also passed on the information that this thistle chewed, “is good against a stinking breath”. The roots, boiled in wine and drunk “… take away the ranke smell of the body and arme-hole”. You could even apply the root like a poultice for the same purpose."[DPL Watts]


"The common thistle is a pernicious weed that spreads freely by means of its seed which can be dispersed by the wind over a large area. The seedlings are capable of establishing themselves in grassland. This plant should not be encouraged, and if growing on your land should be cut down before it sets seed. What better way of discouraging it is there than eating it? An easily grown plant, succeeding in any ordinary garden soil in a sunny position[200]. " [PFAF]


"Seed - sow early spring or autumn in situ. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 8 weeks at 20°c[164]. A pernicious weed, it really needs no encouragement from us." [PFAF]


Page last modified on Thursday, February 7, 2019 2:15 AM