Blessed Thistle has been known as a cure-all, especially in Renaissance Europe. It was even believed to have fought off the plague. The Ancient believe that it possessed supernatural qualities. Now the times of the past popularity has gone and this herb is used only for several treating purposes where it has proven its effectiveness.
Scientific name of the Blessed Thistle isCnicus benedictus, the sole species in the genus Cnicus, Asteraceae family. This thistle-like plant is sometimes mistaken for Silybum marianus – Milk Thistle, which is another member of the thistle family, but the different plant with different health properties.
Blessed Thistle is sometimes called Cursed Thistle, but has other names: Bitter Thistle, St. Benedict’s Thistle, Carbenia Benedicta, Carduus benedictus, Cardo Santo, Chardon Benit, Cnicus benedictus, Holy Ghost Herb, Holy Thistle, Spotted Thistle, Salonitenolide and many others.
Blessed Thistle is an annual plant that is smaller than some other thistles, it grows up to 60 cm. It has long and broad fuzzy leaves (as well as the hairy stem) with small spines on the margins. The flowers are yellow and surrounded by numerous spiny basal bracts. They bloom during most of the summer, from May to June. The plant has unpleasant odor and a very bitter taste.
The plant is native to the Mediterranean region; to the whole Southern Europe through to Asia, as well as Turkey. Now it is cultivated throughout the continent and seems to be found throughout the world in most mild and warm climates. It grows in meadows and along roadsides and likes warm dry sunny places with poor soil.
In herb medicine the „flowering tops” of the plant is used. That is the part of the blessed thistle that consists of flowers, leaves, and upper stems. It is gathered while the plants are in full bloom, and then chopped and dried for use. Also the root andripe seeds are used.
Blessed Thistle is available in capsules – to take 2 capsules with a meal twice daily ( the average amount of the herb in capsules – 650 mg), in tea – to take 1 cup a half hour before meals (pour boiling water over 1.5 to 2 grams of crushed herb and steep for 5 to 10 minutes – for a total of 4 to 6 grams of the herb daily), in oil – used in emergencies if other oils are not available ( as anti-inflammatory and antibiotic), in infusions (1-3g of dried herb for infusion), liquid extracts (1:1 in 25 % alcohol, to take 1-3 ml) and powders. As a supplement for nursing mothers the herb is also available in capsules. There are some capsules that besides increasing milk supply give other properties: increase appetite, prevent sickness and improve memory.
The plant is also available on the market as a flavoring for alcoholic drinks and is considered an appetite enhancer (that fact is, actually, approved by the German E Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
Cnicus benedictus is first of all famous for its digestive and blood-purifying tonic qualities and for the quality to improve mother’s milk. The whole plant is astringent, bitter, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, strongly emetic in large doses, emmenagogue, galactogogue, stimulant, homeopathy, stomachic and tonic.
As for the active ingredients the flowers of the herb contain mainly bitter substances of the sesquiterpene lactone type – cnicin, the seeds – lignan lactones (such as trachelogenin), the whole plant contains also essential oil which includes n-paraffin, aromatic aldehydes, flavonoids and other essential constituents.
A warm infusion of the plant is said to be one of the most effective means of improving the milk supply of a nursing mother as it promotes the lactation (avoid using during pregnancy); however its effectiveness for this purpose has not been scientifically established and no studies have been conducted to evaluate blessed thistle’s effects on infants.
Due to its ‘bitter formula’ it is used to treat digestive issues – mostly in cold tonics. It is also used used in the treatment of liver (hepatitis, cirrhosis and jaundice) and gall bladder problems. Blessed thistle is appeared to protect the liver against poisons.
Externally the herb is used in the treatment of wounds and ulcers and to soothe injured skin (a soft cloth is soaked in a poultice of blessed thistle, possibly heated, and applied to an aching or injured area of skin surface).
Internally – in the treatment of anorexia, poor appetite associated with depression, dyspepsia, flatulent, etc.
Blessed thistle has been tested in laboratory studies for its properties against infections, inflammation and cancer, with promising results. So, it may be included in the unproven anti-cancer herbal remedy (Essiac).
Cnicus benedictus is used for the treatment of viral infections. Though there are too little human researches and limited scientific evidence as for the herb effectiveness against HIV, influenza and
herpes viruses. As for the laboratory studies, it sure has activity against several types of bacteria. The herb has been tested in vitro for its antimicrobial, anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects, with good results.
Other traditional usage of the Blessed thistle is for treating acne, cellular regeneration, headaches and hormone imbalances.
Be careful while using the plant by mouth, as it can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (in some cases (and for some individuals) it can worsen ulcers and inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome). Do not use it if you have ulcers or inflammatory bowel conditions, if you are less than 18 years old and if you are a pregnant woman. Persons who are allergic to daisy family plants (chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed) may experience allergy symptoms to blessed thistle. Mind that in excessive doses the plant has an unpleasant side effect – it causes vomiting. Some of the animal studies report that in long-term usage blessed thistle may cause gastrointestinal upset, liver disease, kidney toxicity, or increased risk of developing esophageal or nasal cancer (as itcontains tannins) and may increase the risk of bleeding. In addition, many tinctures contain high levels of alcohol and should be avoided when driving.
But still, when used with caution it will bring you only positive health benefits.