Wild Cardoon: How To Grow And Use The Perennial

Wild Cardoon: How To Grow And Use The Perennial

The wild cardoon is an eye-catcher due to its spiky appearance and brings numerous insects and birds into your garden. How to plant and care for the perennial, you will learn here.

Wild cardoon is a herbaceous plant that comes in green in spring, purple in summer and brown in winter. In the wild, the native cardoon grows along roadsides, streams and floodplains. It is most common in central and southern Europe.

The plant grows biennially. In the first year the rosette with large leaves is formed. The individual leaves are dark green and spiny on the underside. In the second year, several tall stems grow, which are also spiny. The stem leaves grow in pairs and are notched on the edges. Wild cardoon grows up to two meters high, the cone-shaped inflorescences between five and nine centimeters. These are studded with numerous tiny individual flowers. The special feature: The flowers open in a ring starting from the center downward and upward. The wild cardoon blooms purple from July to the end of August. The flower head is surrounded by spiny, elongated narrow bracts. Small nut fruits develop from the flowers after successful fertilization.

Because of its appearance, wild cardoon is also called card thistle. Since it is prickly on almost all parts of the plant, you should keep it away from children.

The wild cardoon and the animal world

Throughout the year, wild cardoon provides water and food for various species of animals:

  • With its large leaves, the plant forms small basins that collect rainwater. Experts assume that this is a protection against insects such as ants. Small birds such as tits and robins use the water basin as a drinking and bathing place. The wild cardoon is therefore also called a cistern plant.
  • From July to October, the flowers of wild cardoon provide food for long-tailed insects such as bees, bumblebees and butterflies.
  • Inside the flower heads are the seed heads of wild cardoon. After flowering, fruits grow on the flower heads, and they are small nuts. The seeds as well as fruits provide food for birds such as bullfinch or goldfinch in winter. In the natural garden at home, it is therefore best not to cut off the flower heads and stems, or to do so only in the spring. If the winter is particularly mild, it is possible that the seeds already begin to germinate.
  • The wild cardoon is an animal spreader. Insects easily get stuck on its spines and inflorescences. Even by passing birds and insects, the seeds of the wild cardoon are thrown into the environment. You can imagine this as a kind of catapult. In this way and by wind, wild cardoon spreads and sows itself.

Plant wild cardoon

Wild Cardoon: How To Grow And Use The Perennial

As mentioned, wild cardoon is a prickly plant. Always wear thick or sturdy gardening gloves and long clothing when planting and further during care.

  • Time: Sowing is possible in spring from late March to mid-April, but also in early autumn. The seeds are then planted directly in the bed. They germinate after a maximum of 30 days. You can get them in (specialized) herb shops or hardware stores. Often the seeds are part of wild plant mixtures. Unfortunately, it is difficult to grow wild cardoon on the balcony.
  • Location: The wild cardoon prefers a sunny place. However, it can also cope with partial shade. Keep a planting distance of 35 to 40 centimeters from other plants. Since cardoon grows tall, it does well next to shrubs and perennials as well as in a flower bed. If you have a garden pond, it will make an eye-catcher there as well.
  • Soil: It is important for the cardoon to have a high moisture content in the soil. Therefore, it should be loose and permeable. This can be achieved by mixing sand or stones into the soil. The soil should also be calcareous. You can find out whether additional liming is necessary by performing a pH test. You can obtain a nutrient-rich soil by adding humus. Wild cardoon thrives best in soil with a high proportion of clay.

How to care for wild cardoon

  • Watering: As mentioned, wild cardoon likes moisture. After all, in nature it is usually found in moist soils. You should also allow the perennial in your own garden. The soil should never dry out completely and should be slightly to moderately moist. Water the wild cardoon daily. On hot days, you should water in the morning and evening.
  • Fertilize: In the first year, the leaf rosette is formed, here no fertilizing is necessary. In the second year, mix organic fertilizer such as compost under the soil around the plant. This way you will support its growth.
  • Pruning: As described above, wild cardoon self-seeds and spreads throughout the garden. If you do not want this, you should cut the plant after flowering. Targeted seeding is possible by harvesting the mature seeds and sowing them directly. However, the seeds and fruits of wild card are an important food source for birds. Therefore, it is better to cut them back in the spring.
  • Wintering: The wild card copes well with cold. Temperatures down to minus 35 degrees Celsius do not bother it. For this reason, you do not need to protect the plant.
  • Diseases and pests: Typical diseases of the wild cardoon are not known. It can also fend off pests by itself due to its water trough and the many thorns.

Use wild cardoon

Wild cardoon is said to help with various diseases by external as well as internal application. Mainly, the plant is used for complaints of the digestive organs, weakened immune systems and skin problems.

Especially the root is said to contain bitter substances, caffeic acids, glucosides and saponins. To date, there have been few studies on the effects of wild cardoon per se, but there are studies on the effects of the individual ingredients.

  • Lyme disease: A study from 2011 shows the inhibition of Lyme disease bacteria by drops of a tincture from the root under laboratory conditions. However, clinical studies and thus confirmations do not exist yet.
  • Gastrointestinal: Bitters are said to have a positive effect on digestion by stimulating the digestive juices. In connection with this, they are said to stimulate the appetite and help with liver and bile complaints. Read more about this in our article Bitters: That’s why they are so healthy. The same effects are attributed to caffeic acid. It is also said to have an anti-inflammatory effect and counteract stomach weakness and irritable stomach.
  • Skin: Glucosides are often a component of skin care products. After all, they are supposed to have a soothing and cleansing effect. Therefore, they are said to be able to provide healing support for small wounds, cracks, chapped skin, eczema, boils and acne. This is shown by studies, including one from 2012 and another from 2018.
  • Inflammation and pain: saponins are said to be a kind of immune system of plants. So the substance is said to have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, expectorant diaphoretic and diuretic effects – in short, detoxifying. Specifically, saponins are used against gout, rheumatism, bacterial infections, headaches and immune deficiency. Read more in our article Saponins: effect and function of the plant substances.
  • In folk medicine, wild cardoon used to be used for other ailments, although this has not yet been scientifically studied. Side effects include skin irritation, circulatory problems, and chills. If you want to use wild cardoon as a medicinal herb, you should approach the dosage slowly and test how you tolerate the ingredients.

The root and leaves of wild cardoon are the main herbs used in medicine. In naturopathy, these usually come in the form of extracts, tinctures, tea mixtures or baths. Products are available unprocessed or processed in herbal shops, some in health food stores or in some pharmacies.

Important: Always pay attention to the purity of the ingredients and always seek medical advice before use. Self-diagnosis can easily turn out wrong. If you want to make your own tinctures, you should consult experts. If you use parts of the wild cardoon from your own garden, make sure that it is really a wild cardoon, botanical name Dipsacus fullonum. There are more than 20 species of cardoon, some of which are poisonous. Visually, the wild cardoon resembles, for example, the poisonous slit-leaf cardoon, which has white flowers and few spines on the stem.

The wild cardoon is also a wonderful decoration for your home. Cut a few stems and let them dry. Alone or combined with other dried flowers, they make a pretty autumn decoration.