Russian Thistle in North America

Jim Gessele, e-mail message to Michael Miller, February 2010.


I can't help but respond to John Gross' recollection of using Russian thistle as cattle feed during the Great Depression's Dirty Thirties. It was also a time of American resourcefulness at its best and the stories of that genre handed down by my grandparents are the most compelling.

Russian thistle was used to feed cattle, but first its thorns had to be signed off in fire. All the same, its consumption by the animals was problematic because the bovine digestive system couldn't handle the noxious weed very well. Cows would bloat and if the farmer didn't get out his trusty oil can with spiked spigot to stab the animal's belly and release the gas, the animal would die. Along came the federal government with a surplus commodity of molasses at no charge. It seems an additional healthy dose of the syrup added to the feed by Grandpa John Berg sent the entire concoction through the cow in a most expeditious manner.

People had no money and store-bought food items were practically out of the question. Irrepressible Grandma Lydia saw other uses for the free molasses. It made an excellent substitute for non-affordable sugar and she used it in canning the wild plums, cherries and June berries found on the prairie. What laxative effect it may have had on family members was never discussed.

And that reminds me of the time the visiting Watkins Product Man's Model T was stalled in the Berg farmyard overnight.

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