Canada Thistle – Cirsium Arvense: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the “She Doesn’t Even Go Here” of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, ma’zana’tig refers to thistles. Despite the popular name Canada thistle, this edible and medicinal plant is not native to Canada. Yup, Canada thistle isn’t from Canada. But it’s common along roadsides and I’ve found it taking over old fields as well.

Canada thistles delicate purple-ish flowerheads make it less likely to confuse with burdock than bull thistle. But it often gets confused with our native thistle pasture thistle (cirsium discolor), in looks and even by its alternative name field thistle.

Canada Thistle – Cirsium Arvense
Canada Thistle – Cirsium Arvense

Edible Uses of Canada Thistle

This thistle with its tinier parts, while as edible as bull thistle, is less worth the effort. For instance, the roots are smaller and more fibrous. The exception is the stalk. Collect stalks when they are still flexible, well before flowering.  Despine and prepare like asparagus.

Medicinal Uses of Canada Thistle

Canada thistle is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the usual astringent uses, same as bull thistle.

Canada Thistle – Cirsium Arvense
Canada Thistle – Cirsium Arvense

Alternative Uses of Creeping Thistle

Same as many other thistles, the fluff is used for stuffing, insulation and even tinder. And the stems make for cordage too.

Growing Cirsium Arvense

I can’t recommend growing invasive and aggressive non-natives like “Canada” and bull thistle. Canada creeps through an extensive deep root system and between that and the seeds it’ll take over and be extremely difficult to get rid of. It’s so aggressive that it’s even considered a weed in the UK where it’s from. And the main Google search concerning it is “controlling Canada thistle”!

But we have a native and less aggressive thistle! Sometimes Canada thistle is called “field thistle”, but the premier thistle we’re looking to plant is pasture thistle (cirsium discolor). And if you join Ontario Native Plant Gardening you can find a PDF file of Native Thistle Conservation Guidelines in their files. The native pasture thistle is visited by many of our butterflies including fritillaries, monarchs, painted ladies (which it’s also a host plant for!), sulfurs and swallowtails. Also many a bee, moth, and more insects. Goldfinches and ruby-throated hummingbird are fans too.


Consume in moderation.

Beware the spines.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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