Blessed thistle (botanical name Cnicus benedictus) is an extremely beneficial herb, especially for women. This herb is prescribed to alleviate painful menstruation and for menstrual headaches. In the form of an emmenagogue (any medication that encourages menstruation), blessed thistle helps to hasten suppressed periods and, hence, this herb ought to be avoided by pregnant women. Blessed thistle may also be useful when any woman has problems during menopause, for instance, profuse haemorrhage. The bitters present in blessed thistle augment the appetite and also facilitate digestion, at the same time, invigorating the liver as well as the flow of bile. In addition, blessed thistle is an excellent medication for treating anorexia, wind, indigestion, colic and any other health condition related to the slow functioning of the liver, for instance, tetchiness, headaches and weariness. The astringent action of this herb is beneficial for curing diarrhea.
The bitters present in blessed thistle have exhibited to possess antimicrobial action and are effective for augmenting the functioning of the immune system. In addition, blessed thistle has also established that it works in the form of an antineoplastic by obstructing the development of atypical cells, thereby proving to be helpful in treating cancer. Blessed thistle also possesses diuretic properties and when it is taken in the form of a hot infusion, it is an effective diaphoretic for fevers as well as an expectorant for easing chest problems. Besides, this herb can also be employed to stop hemorrhages from cuts as well as expedite the healing of wounds. Moreover, blessed thistle also works in the form of an antiseptic.
During the medieval times, people used blessed thistle extensively and there is frequent mention of this herb in a number of herbal texts of that time, for instance Turner's Herbal in 1568 and Gerard's Herbal in 1597. In fact, this herb also has religious implications related to it and, therefore, the other common names for the herb are as ‘Holy Thistle' or ‘Holy Ghost Herb'. It seems that, in the 16th and 17th centuries, blessed thistle helped to alleviate pain as well as inflammation of the heart. In his play ‘Much Ado about Nothing', the great playwright William Shakespeare counsels ‘laying blessed thistle to one's heart', as it ‘helps those that actually hurt and annoy the heart'.
It may be noted that blessed thistle is considered to be among the best herbal medications to stimulate production of breast milk in nursing mothers. A tea prepared from blessed thistle not only helps in this regard, but also augments the functioning of the heart. The tea can be prepared by adding 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of cut and dried up herb to one pint of boiling water. Allow the mixture to permeate for about 45 minute and subsequently filter the liquid and drink it warm. The ideal dosage is drinking one cup of this tea approximately 30 minutes prior to nursing the baby. Alternately, for her convenience, a new mother may also desire to take the herb in its pounded form, taking two capsules thrice every day while she is nursing the infant.
Till today, people in the Black Forest of Bavaria located in southern Germany highly prefer blessed thistle for treating liver disorders and digestive complaints. Here people take the herb in the form of a fluid extract in the dose of one teaspoon. It is also possible to make a comparable dosage without difficulty by blending 1 and 1/2 tablespoonfuls of the pulverized dried blessed thistle in 1 and 1/2 cups (250 ml to 375 ml) of vodka or brandy. Allow the mixture to remain as it is for about two weeks in a pint jar and shake it strongly every day. Subsequently, filter the liquid and store it in a different jar and keep it in a cool and dry location. One teaspoon of this liquid extract may be added to four fluid ounces of distilled water and drunk on an empty stomach.
Leaves, flowering tops.
Blessed thistle has numerous therapeutic properties. This herb is an excellent bitter tonic that stimulates the secretions in the stomach, intestines as well as the gallbladder. In fact, the holy thistle, another name for blessed thistle, is taken to treat trivial problems of the digestive system. In addition, blessed thistle is also used to treat intermittent fevers. Blessed thistle possesses gentle antibiotic and expectorant properties. It is also used to prepare a balm to heal sores and wounds.
During the Middle Ages, people cultivated the blessed thistle extensively. In those days, this herb was believed to be a cure-all for all types of ailments, counting plague. While the herb is not used so widely now, it is still believed to possess an assortment of applications, while it is primarily used in the form of an active element in many herbal tonics. The entire herb possesses cholagogue, bitter, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic and potently emetic properties, especially when it is taken in large doses. It is also a stimulant, galactogogue, emmenagogue, stomachic as well as a tonic. A warm infusion prepared from the whole herb is believed to be among the most effectual ways of augmenting a nursing mother's breast milk supply. In addition, the infusion prepared with the whole herb has been employed in the form of a contraceptive and is frequently used to treat problems of the liver and the gallbladder. Blessed thistle is also used internally to treat poor appetite related to depression, dyspepsia, flatulence and as well as anorexia.
There was a time when the whole blessed thistle plant was permeated in cold water all night and the liquid was drunk thrice every day to treat VD (venereal disease). It has been documented that it was necessary for men to run after taking every dose of this herbal medication with a view to induce perspiration. Such type of treatment frequently resulted in vomiting and queasiness - in effect, taking the medication in large doses may induce vomiting. Externally, blessed thistle is employed to treat ulcers and wounds.
Blessed thistle is harvested during the summer while it starts blossoming and is dried up for use in future. This herb is also used to prepare a homeopathic remedy that is employed to treat gallbladder and liver problems. It may be noted here that the therapeutic guide to herbal medication, the German Commission E Monographs have approved the use of Cnicus benedictus or the blessed thistle for treatment of indigestion (dyspepsia) as well as loss of appetite.
Besides its therapeutic uses, blessed thistle is also used for culinary purposes, especially the young leaves, which are often consumed raw. The flower heads of this herb are harvested prior to the unfolding of the flowers and they have been employed in the form of a substitute for globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus). Since the flower heads of blessed thistle are somewhat small, employing them in this manner is extremely tricky.
The root of blessed thistle is boiled in the form of a pot herb. Blessed thistle is generally used in the form of a flavouring agent.
Habitat and cultivation
Blessed thistle belongs to the family Asteraceae. This herb is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and is found growing in the wild over a vast expanse of land ranging from Portugal in the north to France in the south up to Iran in the east. People of other regions of the world are also familiar with this herb and this species has been introduced in different regions of North America, where it grows as a noxious weed.
This Mediterranean herb does well on arid stony ground as well as in open area, like meadows and pastures. The leaves and flowering tops of blessed thistle are harvested during the summer.
Blessed thistle can be grown without any difficulty in common garden soil. This herb has a preference for arid soil and a sunlit location. Blessed thistle grows best on soils that have adequate manure. It is an extremely decorative plant and is frequently grown in Europe in the form of a medicinal plant as well as for its seeds that yield oil.
Blessed thistle is propagated by its seeds that are sown in situ (in their permanent positions) during spring or the early part of autumn. Generally, it takes two to six weeks' time for the seeds to germinate when the temperature is maintained at 10º C.
Therapeutically, blessed thistle is mainly used in the form of a tincture. Usually, people take 2 ml of the blessed thistle tincture thrice every day. To prepare a tea from blessed thistle add about two grams of the dried up herb to one cup (250 ml) of boiling water and allow it to steep for about 15 minutes. For best results, drink three cups of this tea every day.
Side effects and cautions
People using medications prepared from blessed thistle ought to be aware of its side effects and take necessary precautions. In fact, blessed thistle is a comparatively harmless herb and does not have any side effects. However, any individual having allergic reactions to plants belonging to the daisy family ought to use blessed thistle with caution. When taken in over doses, more than 5 gram in every cup of tea, this herb may result in vomiting. In some countries the use of blessed thistle as a medication is conditional on legal restrictions.
The side effects of using blessed thistle may include probable irritation to the eyes. In addition, it may also result in probable cross-reaction with Echinacea and mugwort - sometimes, also blanket flowers, bitter weed, colt's foot, marigold, chrysanthemum and dandelion. Hence, they should not be used in conjugation with blessed thistle. Using blessed thistle may augment secretion of stomach acid and, hence, caution should be exercised by people enduring heartburn and gastric ulcers. This herb may also increase bleeding and, therefore, care should be taken while taking any anticoagulant or blood thinning medications. Blessed thistle should never be used during pregnancy.