Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus)

Blessed Thistle, sometimes known as Holy Thistle or St. Benedict’s Thistle, is an annual plant native to the mediterranean from Portugal to Iran in the Asteraceae family. It is considered an invasive noxious weed in North America. It’s recognizable by it’s distinctive thistle flower head, which consists of a dense capitulum of yellow flowers surrounded by spikey bracts, and it’s pinnately lobed alternating leathery leaves with spiked margins. It has wooly, slightly reddish smooth branching stems and typically grow 1-2 feet in height. It typically flowers in june, which is the best time to collect the flowers for medicine making, as it is when they are at their peak biochemical potency. It’s a common disturbance area plant, found on roadsides and in drainage ditches in just about any soil type. It is propagated through seeds, best sown in the spring and collected in the fall.

Medicinal Uses
Blessed Thistle is a bitter tonic that stimulates digestive secretions and bile, making it beneficial for cases of appetite loss, dyspepsia, and indigestion. It’s generally beneficial for diseases of the digestive tract and can ease flatulence and colic. It’s astringent and anti-bacterial qualities make it useful for treating diarrhea and hemorrhaging. It also has diaphoretic and expectorant qualities, making it a useful herb for fevers accompanied by chest congestion. It is also used as a galactogogue to increase milk flow for nursing mothers and as an emmenagogue for delayed menstruation, specifically in cases due to cold. It’s also a gentle yet highly effective liver tonic and detoxifier. It is considered a cooling herb.

Folk Uses
Blessed Thistle got its name from its high reputation as a heal-all, being supposed even to cure the plague. It is mentioned in many old herbal old texts as well as Shakespeare’s plays. In Europe, Blessed Thistle was recommended to be taken by either eating the leaves with with bread and butter for breakfast as was done with Watercress, mixing a powder made from the dried leaves into wine, or drinking a glass of the juice of the plant. An infusion of the dried herb was recommended as a preventive or to remove disease, often taken at bed time. It was thought that the distilled leaves applied externally to the chest benefitted the heart by expelling all poison and corruption that might hurt and or dwell in the heart. It was recommended to be grown in all gardens.

Dosage
An infusion of 1 teaspoon of dried herb, infused for 10-15 minutes, drunk three times daily, or as a tincture of 1-2ml three times daily. For sluggish digestion and general indigestion, it combines well with balmony and kola, and for diarrhea it combines well with meadowsweet and tormentil. For a liver tonic, combine with equal parts dandelion, oregon grape, pipsissewa, and fennel seeds. In general, Blessed Thistle brews quite a bitter concoction, so be prepared to blend more pleasant herbs such as fennel and peppermint, or raw honey to taste. Strong infusions have been known to induce vomiting.

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Closeup of leaf texture and flower shape of the Blessed Thistle.

Closeup of leaf texture and flower shape of the Blessed Thistle.

A 19th century botanical illustration of Blessed Thistle.

A 19th century botanical illustration of Blessed Thistle.

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