On sturdy stems in metallic copper-brown, with dispersed, dissected, long leaves, the perfect spheres appear as works of modern sculpture or jewelry. The strict symmetry of each globe gives this plant an appearance away from the rest of the plant kingdom and closer to the geometry of space and perfect mathematics. As the blue flowers extend to form the full, carefully arranged surface of the globe, thorns, in shiny gold protrude outwards beyond the blue, guarding it from goats, and extending the sphere to another layer of soothing contrast –the whole composition appears as if an orb of fireworks has been frozen in physical material and on a miniature scale.
This perennial plant decorates Jordan’s roadsides every midsummer. It starts flowering in July and continues for 4-6 weeks. Not too fussy about its habitat, it prefers waste areas with well-drained soil and the full sunny days of the Jordanian summer.
In Arabic, Globe Thistle (also “Blue Glow”) is called “Arth” or “Blue Camel-Thorn” and in the area around Karak it is called “Sihaf".
According to Zaid Gussous, the Globe Thistle is part of the traditional gastronomy of the people of Karak, eaten in early spring as green stems and leaves. As for the scientific names, “Echinops Polyceras” is used for the Jordanian species, in Palestine its name is “Echinops Adenocaulus”, and in Lebanon “Echinops Viscosus”. The difference in scientific names might not always refer to different sub-species, it can sometimes refer to the same plant as named by different botanists in different countries.
The Globe Thistle grows throughout the Middle East, Europe, Iran, India and beyond. It is also cultivated in the west as a decorative plant for gardens, and one can purchase its seeds over the Internet. Its steel-blue color is very attractive for landscaping and it provides an excellent contrast to other plants in bloom during midsummer.
Medically, this thorny plant that we drive and tread on, might turn out to be a goldmine. References point to its alkaloid “echinopsine” content that regulates the function of the parasympathetic autonomous system. It improves memory, hearing and vision. It restores the function of fine nerves and neural centers in the brain; it is used in paralysis, neuralgia, inflammation and damage of the spinal cord, and also as a cardio tonic agent. There are also references to its extracts (especially from roots) with anti-cancer activity.
In Chinese medicine, this plant is used to treat bleeding syndromes, hepatitis, and ailments related to the heart and liver channels.
This beautiful and useful plant is only one of many in Jordan’s rich botanical heritage. In a way, we live in a beautiful, self-propagating and self-maintaining natural pharmacy. Jordan might need to concentrate more on the archiving, protection and development of the many components of its landscape. Jordan’s ethno-botanical knowledge should be protected as the property of its people, under a national Patent Office, so we don’t end up importing the extracts of our Globe Thistle in a pill patented by some global corporate.
Nowadays you must have seen many thistles in bright blue growing by the side of the road. This plant can’t be missed - it has many blue globes, some as big as an apple with thorns radiating outwards in all directions. The bush can grow up to 1 meter high, and is often found on disturbed, poor soil, and dumping grounds. In open fields you can spot this thistle growing out of stone hedges and piles of stone in neglected farmland. A good destination for spotting Globe Thistle would be in the secondary roads around Fuhais and Salt. In the Karak region, south of Al Mazar, I saw substantial stretches of this beautiful thistle lining the roadside - adding a border of brilliant blue to the endless carpets of golden wheat. The sturdy stems of this plant makes is suitable to be used as cut flower. It also dries well, keeping its blue, but can shed its thorny seeds if picked too ripe. Be careful of the thorns – take along gardening gloves, or use some cardboard to avoid getting the thorns into your fingers. Thistles and most of the thorny wild plants are photogenic, presenting a good subject with sharp lines, subtle colors and intriguing masses.