Scientific Name(s): Silybum marianum
What: roots, leaves, young flowers, seeds
How: roots raw or cooked; young leaves raw or steamed after removing spines; flowers are steamed; seeds roasted or pressed for oil.
Where: sunny fields
When: spring, summer
Nutritional Value: Vit. C, calories
Dangers: Spines must be removed before cooking or eating. Some people may be allergic to milk thistles, especially those allergic to artichokes.
Closeup of flowers and flower buds.
Closer closeup of flower.
Young milk thistle.
Close-ups of another milk thistle flower.
Milk thistle seed, which science has found to be a powerful source of liver-detoxification compounds.
Milk thistles are easy to identify by their height (upwards of 6' tall), beautiful purple flowers, and white veins on blue-green leaves. The stem is tasty when peeled and then eaten raw, but try to get it before the flowers have opened. The leaf center "rib" is also tasty after the rest of the leaf (and prickers) are stripped away. The roots can be roasted for a coffee substitute.
They have a long history of medicinal use, especially for treatment of the liver. A tea made from all parts of the plant is the usual method of treating the liver though the seeds have the most effect according to recent research. Link to medicinal usage.
Start looking for it in mid-February, but it can be found into early summer.