Aakoub or akkoubGundelia tournefortii) is a spiny, thistle-like plant found in semi-desert areas in Palestine and Lebanon. This wild vegetable’s recent claim to fame is that researchers identified its pollen grains on the shroud of Turin. It is picked when in season from the mountains surrounding area. Two cities famous for their use of akkoub are Nablus and Jenin. In Lebanon, it is commonly collected in the southern part of Mount Lebanon: the mountains of Shouf and Dahr el-Baydar where it is used to prepare stews, omelets, salads, kebbeh and even pickles.
To prepare for cooking, the thistles must first be removed, which is a very involved process. Then the akkoub is sautéed in some olive oil with plenty of chopped onions and garlic, then mixed with cooked meat with a final addition of fresh lemon juice. It is usually served with rice.
People use the vegetable year round, kept stored under refrigeration. Akkoub is a wild plant that is difficult to forage due to its mountainous growing location and many spiny leaves. It has a taste similar to artichoke. The leaves, stems, roots, and undeveloped flower buds of akkoub are edible when they first sprout in early spring (February–March). Plants become progressively drier over the summer, with leaves turning yellow and growing spines. Before drying completely, the plant detaches from its roots and is pushed by wind, dispersing seeds for the next year and giving the nickname of “tumble thistle.” In Arabic and Palestinian culture in particular, its used for food and healing purposes, and these cultures respect and identify with the plant. Ways of cooking akkoub vary from frying it with eggs to cooking it with lamb meat and yogurt. To prepare for cooking, the thistles must first be removed, which is a very involved process. The cleaning and preparation of akkoub is a whole ritual in Nablus. Nablulsi women would gather and spend hours shaving the vegetable until their fingertips would turn black. They store the plant in large quantities to use throughout the year or to send as gifts to family members living abroad. While entire families once traditionally harvested akkoub, it is now at risk of being lost due to the difficulty and time involved in its harvest, cleaning and cooking.