The common teasel (botanical name Dipsacus sylvestris) is a thorny aromatic herb that blossoms once in every two years. This plant is indigenous to Europe and has a broad stem, which grows up to a height of about three to six feet. The thorny leaves of teasel have a variety of shapes ranging from lance-shaped to being oblong. The base of the leaves, which appear in pair, is generally merged. This plant produces blue hued blooms that resemble those of lavender during the period between July and October. The teasel flowers have a tubular shape and are supported by means of a flower head, which is surrounded by piercing and thorny bracts.
It is estimated that the teasel was introduced to North America way back in the 1700s. It is believed that common teasel might have been introduced along with other species of teasel or by chance with different plant materials brought from Europe.
Teasel generally grows in the form of a basal rosette of leaves for at least one year and, subsequently, gives rise to a flowering stalk. This plant is unique in the way that it dies soon after its flowering season.
Flowering teasel plants bear large, oblong-shaped, sessile (merged at the base) leaves that grow opposite to one another and have thorns. The stems of teasel also have pointed thorns. The exceptional flower heads of this plant make it simple to recognize teasel when it is in bloom. The flowers of this herb are small and are compacted into intense oval-shaped heads at the apex of the flowering stems. A solitary teasel plant has the aptitude to produce over 2,000 seeds. Teasel grows in open areas where there is sufficient sunlight. At times, the plant is also found growing in the wild in the savannas, superior quality prairies, sedge meadows, seeps, along the roads, in the dumps and deeply disturbed areas. In fact, such places are the most common surroundings for the plant to flourish.
The leaves that grow on the upper part of the teasel plant bind together to look like a depression having the shape of a bowl or basin, where rainwater is accumulated and such an arrangement of the leaves has given teasel other common names, such as Venus' basin and the water thistle. In the past, people believed that the rainwater collected in the bowl-like depression of teasel leaves was helpful in providing relief from irritation and swelling in the eyes and was also frequently used in the form of a cosmetic to make the complexion of the face fairer. According to the famed practitioner of herbal medicine in ancient Greece Dioscorides, the root of teasel possessed purifying attributes and suggested the use of a decoction prepared by simmering the roots of teasel in wine for treating warts as well as fistulas effectively. In addition to Dioscorides, several other herbalists of the ancient times also advocated the use of the roots of this herb to treat jaundice and also in the form of a diuretic to augment the flow of urine. In fact, there were many other practitioners of herbal medicine, who recommended the preparation of a tea from teasel roots that is considered to be an excellent appetizer.
It may be noted that the teasel plants that grow on their own in the wild as well as those that are cultivated (D. fullonum) belong to the same family. Fundamentally, the cultivated variety as well as those that grow in the wild are similar with the sole difference being the structure of the bract of their respected flower heads. The bracts of the flower heads of the teasel plants growing in the wild are straight, while those of D. fullonum are in the form of hooks and to some extent turn straight again when they are not cultivated or start growing in the wild again. In ancient times, the Romans employed the curved bracts of D. fullonum to undo and also weave the meshes of woollen clothes. There was a time when cultivating teasel plants commercially formed a key industry in the United State's New York State. However, now it has been replaced by contemporary machinery, despite the fact that the modern machinery that has substituted commercial cultivation of teasel is yet to provide the comfortable finishing made available by the teasel plants.
Since the therapeutic uses of the roots of the teasel are still undecided, currently they are not in much use. This herb is helpful in the form of a diuretic, to stimulate sweating and also provide comfort to the stomach. Moreover, teasel facilitates in cleansing the system and helping it to get rid of toxins, in addition to augmenting digestion. Since this herb possesses a strong astringent attribute or has the aptitude to bring the tissues closer, teasel is also effective in treating diarrhea. Simultaneously, teasel also assists in improving appetite, nurturing the stomach as well as healing the liver. Therefore, this herb is also beneficial in curing jaundice, in addition to the problems related to the gallbladder. While there is no precise proof or confirmation regarding the remedial advantages of using teasel, the close relationship of this herb to the thistle family makes it worth a thorough investigation of its attributes as well as therapeutic uses worthwhile.
Conventionally, the teasel has been employed to treat different health conditions, including fistulae (anomalous opening via the skin), warts and even cancerous sores. The root of this herb possesses diuretic, diaphoretic and stomachic properties. An infusion prepared from teasel roots is believed to make the stomach stronger, improve appetite, get rid of impediments of the liver as well as cure jaundice. The root of teasel is harvested or dug out during the early part of autumn and dried for use when necessary. An infusion prepared from the leaves of teasel has been employed in the form of a wash to cure acne. This herb has a traditional history of being used in treating cancer, while a salve prepared from the roots of the herb is employed to cure warts, whitlows and wens. The flowering teasel plant is also used to prepare a homeopathic medication that is employed to cure skin disorders.
In a number of varieties of teasels, the leaves on the upper part of the plant join in a roundabout manner to the stem taking the form of a cup, which collects rainwater. In earlier times, people were of the belief that the rainwater collected in the structure was effective as eyewash as well as in the form of a cosmetic to clear the facial skin complexion. Therefore, teasel has earned another common name - Venus' Basin. In addition, the Greeks were of the view that the roots of the herb possessed cleansing properties and had the aptitude to get rid of warts.
The dried out teasel plant yields a blue dye that is often used as a substitute for indigo. This natural dye is soluble in water. When the teasel plant is mixed with alum, it yields a yellow dye.
Habitat and cultivation
Teasel is native to Europe, but has been naturalized in different regions over the years. This herb is currently grown extensively throughout North America. In effect, the teasel may be found growing in the wild in a vast region extending from Quebec to Ontario as well as from New England southwards to North Carolina. In addition, teasel is also found growing in areas westward of Utah in addition to the Pacific Northwest states, especially in the areas where the herb was earlier cultivated commercially.
Teasel contains inulin, bitter substances, and a scabioside.