Echinops stems from the Greek words “echinos,” which means “sea urchin” or “hedgehog,” and “ops” (appearance), referring to the spiny flower heads.
These hardy perennials are commonly known as globe thistles. The plants have deeply divided, spiny leaves, which are gray-green above and fuzzy and white beneath. The blossoms are compact round heads of tiny pale blue or grayish-white flowers, resembling thistles. The sphere-shaped flower heads are up to 5 cm in diameter. Globe thistles have roots in the old world and are found in western Asia and southeastern Europe, from Russia to southern France, Spain and the Czech and Slovak Republics. They also are native to some of the mountainous areas of tropical Africa.
Globe thistles are members of the Asteraceae, or Compositae, family. This family is one of the largest families cultivated for cut flower and food crops. Close relatives include sunflowers, daisies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, Gerberas, Dahlias, Zinnias and lettuce.
Globe thistles are available from about May through October from Holland and year-round from California.
Purchase globe thistles when approximately 50 percent of the flowers are open and at the peak of blue. Watch for any signs of browning or mold in the bunches, and avoid bunches that have discolored or rotted stems.
Fresh, they will last for seven to 25 days. Dry, they can last for years. Soft hands and feet can be cut by the leaves and mace like flower heads; keep them off the floor, and wear protective shoes and gloves when handling globe thistles.
Globe thistles can be used fresh or dried. They are suitable for drying if they are harvested before fully blooming. To dry them, hang them upside down in a dry, hot area. The dried flowers can be sprayed with sealant, lacquer, shellac or paint.