Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thorny thistles and beautiful berries

Beautiful Berries

As the weather warms up and you prematurely start to hum away at Christmas carols, the simple summer berry is never far away. Fruiting in the garden at the moment we have mellow mulberries, luscious loganberries, bountiful blackberries, sweet, sweet strawberries and last but not least, whimsical wild strawberries.

Last week we shared our very first loganberry, the taste was amazing. It is similar to a raspberry but with a punchy pomegranate-like after taste, a total wow factor. The berries grow on lazy weeping canes that need some support but their taste is sensational and definitely worth growing in your backyard, (we planted our loganberries last year).

our very first Loganberry

Our thornless blackberries, whilst not yet ripe, are plentiful. We will have net them very soon so as not to loose them to the birds who keep eyeing them off.

Last year we lost most of our strawberries to slugs with exceptional taste, however this year those slugs will be sorely disappointed. This year we have hung our strawberries up off the ground in Joe's very ingenious invention - the used milk carton hanger pot. It works too, we are claiming those delicious berries before any slugs...and the taste of home-grown strawberries, well just an experience that needs to be had by all.

Another little strawberry treat that has been popping up throughout the front garden are the wild strawberries. They are smaller and less tasty but still an exciting little treat for the kids to pop into their mouths as they find them in the garden.

wild strawberries
I would love to make a frozen berry cheesecake or mulberry smoothies for Christmas day, but most of our berries rarely make it through the door, there is something magical about popping a berry into your mouth whilst standing in the shade of the garden trees... ahh those beautiful berries.

Thistle wet your whistle! Thistle beer recipe.

Last week, I noticed a very healthy thistle popping up in one of our garden beds, which had sprung out of some old horse manure. Normally, I would get rid of these sort of weeds immediately, but then I remembered hearing of a recipe for nettle beer, and while this Scottish thistle wasn’t technically a nettle, it got me wondering whether or not a brew from thistles was a possibility. But one little thistle wouldn’t be enough for a brew, I thought, and put the idea in the back of my mind with the list of other crazy ideas I’d one day like to try.

And that’s where the idea stayed until this weekend, when Jo and I took the kids for a bush walk just a few minutes from where we live. As we entered the reserve, I noticed the tell tale purple flower of a Scottish thistle growing next to the track. “Careful kids, there’s a nasty thistle there” I said... and then, in one of those divine moments of enlightenment, I noticed that there were hundreds of thistles popping up everywhere. Suddenly, the beer idea came rushing back to the forefront of my mind again - ahem, and the need to preserve our wonderful bushland from this terrible noxious weed, and later that day, N and I took a large bucket, some gloves and big scissors, and returned to stoically do our bit for bushland preservation against these nasty weeds.

my trusty thistle picking wing man

After some Internet research, I found some interesting facts (?) about the humble thistle. Apart from being a medieval cure for baldness, thorns aside, it seems that all parts of the plant are edible. The young flowers can be eaten in the same fashion as a globe Artichoke.  It has been used to make tea’s for liver ailments, improve memory, make oil. the roots supposedly taste similar to Jerusalem artichoke, but beware, can cause massive bouts of gas.  

With such positive acclamations, it only seemed right that we craft the following (very experimental, and as far as I am aware, World's first)  THISTLE BEER RECIPE!!!!!!!!


250 grams of thistle leaves/flowers

12 litres of water

4 oranges

Cream of tartar

Brewers yeast (or baker’s yeast is ok)

1.5 kg of sugar

3 kilos of extreme optimism


Remove leaves and buds from stems (around 250 grams) – use gloves and scissors.

Bring 12 litres of water to the boil in a large pot

Add thistle leaves and buds and simmer for 30 minutes (enough to fill the pot)

Strain through muslin  into a sterile brewing keg – the colour was that of tea, and a quick taste test had a similar taste to green tea...or was it grass... let’s say green tea for now.

Add 1 tbl spoon of cream of tartar, the juice of 4 oranges, and 1.5 kilo’s of sugar. Stir well until sugar is dissolved. You could also add other ingredients here such as ginger etc for flavor.

Allow to cool to blood temperature (this took hours), and then add the brewer’s yeast (15 grams) – I used baker’s yeast which is an adequate alternative.

Leave to ferment for a few days and then bottle and leave for a further 2 weeks.

boil and bubble...

the strained thistle tea

Whilst we are hopeful of the final result, I suspect that it may be on par with our Mulberry wine. But on the off chance that it does work, it would make for a great way to control the spread of noxious weeds in our local flora, and help improve the liver function and and memory amongst beer drinkers worldwide... on the quiet, we may be about the revolutionise the beer industry and become ridiculously rich, but perhaps its best to keep it under your hat until the taste test.

The Thistle Beer Verdict
After  4 or 5 days in the keg, we bottled the batch adding a sugar drop (about a teaspoon of sugar) to each bottle to carbonate - make it fizzy. It only seemed right to try a quick little swig, albeit premature  from the barrel. The Aroma was sweet and citrusy, and the taste.... bitter, almost suck on a lemon bitter, almost enough to make me loose any interest in bushland preservation, altogether.

But there was a glimmer of hope. with the added sugar in each bottle, perhaps it might just pull through. After a few days in the bottle it was time for another taste test. Surprisingly, it was significantly better, with a zesty citrus flavor and refreshing bitter-sweet tang... my interest in bushland preservation was once again restored.

a modest 3 out of 5

With a few more weeks in the bottle, I expect the brew to improve further, and I am confident to say, that the thistle beer experiment was a success! If you are inclined to give it a try, make sure you are confident that the thistles are healthy and have not been sprayed with any herbicides. A trusty pair of gloves and scissors are also recommended.

Our next post will be out shortly, with all the details about the very first crop and swap...85 swappers and counting!


  1. Here I am in a thistle wilderness thinking what thistle to tackle next , after a luscious spring...and here you are making thistle beer. What a great thing to make!!
    there must be something good in them because the goats love them and manage to find some way to eat them that doesn't end up with them having a spiky tongue.

  2. There you go Kim, you could open a brewery on your farm stay. Give those wineries a run for their money. Thanks for reading.

  3. Well that is a very impressive project! I'm impressed with any home brewing, but thistle beer really is something special :) I hope it tastes good at the end.


  4. I planted a boysenberry last year and I'm looking forward to seeing how it tastes. That thistle beer looks interesting!