The Migration of the Thistle

As hundreds of thousands of refugees pour into other countries from the Middle East, I would suggest that plants are very much the same as people. Plants thrive under certain conditions and when those conditions become unfriendly or uninhabitable, they move or migrate. Weeds as we call them, are just plants and the fact of the matter is people could not survive without them. Weeds are the pioneer plants that typically show up first in disturbed areas getting the ground ready for other plants. They are the ones that thrive under the harshest conditions and they’ve mastered every survival skill known to man. Wild plants show an amazing resilience to obstacles that defy explanation. They change the fastest, proliferate the most and adapt very rapidly. It seems to me if we are what we eat, I want to be a weed.

Those darn thistles

One of the most dreaded and unwelcome wild plants in the area are those darn thistles. What could they be good for anyway? We’ve all see the migration of the thistle seed with thousands, probably hundreds of thousands drifting in the wind looking for the perfect place to plant their feet and start to grow. We in Teller/Park County have 4 species of thistles that grow in the wild. Nobody likes them, nobody wants them and nobody would know what to do with them because they don’t know there is value in the plant. They only know the bad things about thistle. Like how they multiply seemingly to no end and they are pokey, quite prickly indeed.


National emblem

Ironically, the thistle is the emblem of the Nation of Scotland. How did a lowly weed become revered by a whole Nation? It’s rumored that late in the summer of 1263, the King of Norway set out with a fleet of ships intent on conquering the land of the Scots. Legend has it that under the cover of darkness, the Norsemen removed their footwear in order to sneak up on the sleeping Scotsmen. Unfortunately, they snuck right into a patch of thistles and one of them stepped directly on one. I’ll just bet he had harsher words than “those darn thistles”. His cries of pain awakened the sleeping Scots and needless to say the thistle saved the day. It is said that the Order of the Thistle, the highest honor in Scotland, was founded in 1540 by King James V with the motto “Nemo me impune lacessit”, “No-one harms me without punishment” or translated in Scots “Wha daurs meddle wi me”.

Good medicine, good food

Consider this, what if that darn thistle could heal your sick liver? Or what if that thistle could provide food and water for you during a famine? Would you then have a different perspective of the thousands of thistle seeds drifting in the wind? Would you then hope they find a place to plant themselves and thrive?

Milk Thistle, most known and valued for its seed, is a supreme liver healer; however the entire plant is edible like most thistles. The young leaves are very tender and easy to tear but like the flower, the leaves sport some mighty threatening points making it an excellent defender of itself. Precautionary measures such as thick gloves and long sleeves should be taken when harvesting but know this, you’ll get poked regardless. It goes without saying these points need to be removed before attempting to ingest. The seeds should be collected before taking flight, powdered in a blender and capsulized or stirred into water to drink. The flowers can be eaten like an artichoke before it blooms. You’ll notice the spines protecting the flower appear to be quite sharp but the flower itself is very delicate much like the leaves. The roots can easily be gathered after a rainstorm and cooked into soup or stew or eaten raw.

It never ceases to amaze me, when I talk about the weeds and how healthy they are, people look at me like I have 3 heads. I suppose I could be considered to be a little off my rocker by some standards. I do have quite a different perspective, but I’m not the only one.

Love heals

For hundreds of women in Tennessee, the thistle has become a symbol of hope and regeneration. Becca Stevens, priest and chaplain at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel in Nashville, has spent most of her adult life trying to help women broken by rape, forced prostitution, homelessness, addiction and other physical and emotional trauma. Becca dreamed of a residential community called Magdalene for women wrecked by prostitution and addiction. In 1997, Stevens opened the first Magdalene house — a place where women are welcomed to stay for two years without cost and are offered a full range of services, including medical and dental care. Magdalene house helps them become self-supportive and find safe passage out of the cycles that kept them trapped in Worlds where there seemed no hope. A victim of sexual abuse herself, Becca understands that it takes time, love and space to heal these wounds.

When it became apparent to Stevens that no one would hire the women because of their past records, she came up with the idea to start an entrepreneurial enterprise that would put them to meaningful work and help sustain the Magdalene program too. Per Becca “The work needed to be something that walked hand in hand with healing body, mind, and spirit,” Thistle Farms was born. Thistle Farms has afforded thousands of women a safe place to heal from the wounds of their past. They make and sell natural bath and beauty products that are sold in more than 200 retail outlets around the world. The products come wrapped in paper handmade by the women with the thistle flower.

When met with skepticism and clear disdain over her choice of names, she simply states, “Do you not think we understand? We know what the thistle is and that’s how some women are treated in the world. That’s the point.” There are now 6 Magdalene houses operating in Nashville and Thistle Farms has been featured in a number of articles published in The New York Times, Huffington Post and have been featured on television shows like ABC World news and many others.

Per Becca, “harvesting thistles is a way of walking in the world and choosing to love the parts of creation that others have forgotten or condemned. Thistle Farms stands for the truth that, in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world. “

Amen to that Sister, it’s what the world needs now.


For a full range of products offered by Thistle Farms see: and click on the Thistle Farms link

Mari Marques is a Certified Herbalist and owner of The Thymekeeper. For questions or more information contact: Mari at or 719-439-7303 or 748-3388. Mari is available for private consultation.

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