Several thistles are edible. Garden artichoke is one of the best known. Another is safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), known in Arabic as safran because the flowers are collected, dried, and used to color rice like true saffron. This should not be confused with true saffron (Crocus sativus), however, which is derived from a crocus. The most common use of safflower today is for the production of a high quality, healthy cooking oil.
Wild thistles are also eaten. Best known of these edible wild thistles is akoub (Gundelia tournefortii), a common plant in the steppe regions. Some Bible scholars think that the tumbleweed of Psalm 83: 13 ("Make them like tumble-weed galgal, O my God, like chaff before the wind") is akoub.
In March akoub plants are cut at the base and the prickles removed. The disarmed plants are relished as a delicacy that is either cooked with meat or sauteed with onions and oil. I purchased some from a young boy selling them along a country road. Tediously, I removed the young but effective prickles with a scissors. Then, I cooked them with a little olive oil. The flavor resembled mild broccoli. They are a good diet food because they take so much energy to prepare! Like so many wild foods, their desirability is in their wild origin more than in any outstanding flavor.
By mid-May, the akoub stem has separated from the root, allowing the entire plant to be carried by the wind. Near Makawir, the location of Herod's palace on the east of the Jordan and the likely site of the decapitation of John the Baptist, akoub is common. I found the plants stuck in shrubs and in fences, carried there by the wind. Examination of the flowering heads showed that many of the "seeds" (technically fruits) were missing. As the thistle tumbles over the open ground, the fruits fall out. Akoub's dispersal takes place at about the same time as wheat harvest as indicated by the prophet Isaiah (17: 14)--"driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumbleweed (galgal) before a gale".
The fruits are edible. Like the rest of the plant, they are well endowed with armor. Cracking them open is a chore but the flavor is good, rather like that of its distant relative, sunflower.