Friday, May 13, 2011

Cnicus benedictus - Blessed Thistle

Cnicus benedictus - Blessed Thistle, also know as Carduus benedictus, Cardin, St. Benedict's Thistle, Holy Thistle, Bitter Thistle, Bitterweed, Our Lady’s Thistle, Lady’s Thistle, Thrissles, Blessed Cardus and Spotted Thistle.  Cnicus is Latin and derived from the Greek 'knekos' meaning 'safflower' (a name they applied in general to thistles).  Earlier taxonomy labeled it 'carduus' which is Latin for 'spiny'.  'Benedictus' from the Latin means blessed.

Blessed Thistle is a handsome annual, native to the Mediterranean region, from Portugal north to southern France and east to Iran.  It has been cultivated for several centuries in Great Britain for its medicinal use although it is known in other parts of the world, including parts of North America, as an introduced species and often a noxious weed.  It obtained its name from its reputation as a heal-all, being supposed even to cure the plague.

The stem of the Blessed Thistle grows about 2 feet high, is reddish, slender, very much branched and scarcely able to keep upright under the weight of its leaves and flowerheads. The leaves are broad at the base, becoming long and narrow, clasping the dull green stem, the irregular teeth of the wavy margin ending in spines. The flowers are pale yellow, in green prickly heads, each scale on the covering of the head, ending also in a long, brown bristle. The whole plant, leaves, stalks and also the flowerheads, are covered with a thin down.

In agriculture the Thistle is a sign that good ground has not been properly cared for and it will quickly monopolize a large area at the expense of other plants, as they have done in parts of the American prairies, Canada and British Columbia.  Australia was forced to enact heavy penalties upon all who neglected to destroy Thistles on their land within fourteen days, appointing special government inspectors to enforce the law. 

Among any country's list of noxious weeds, the name of Thistle is always to be found. And yet in medicine Thistles are far from useless. Clinical trials have found it useful in the treatment of Amanita mushroom poisoning and it is credited with saving a number of lives in Europe.  Cold infusions in smaller draughts are valuable in weak and debilitated conditions of the stomach, and as a tonic, creating appetite and preventing sickness.  It is used in the purification and circulation of the blood, helping to strengthen the brain and the memory.  The leaves, dried and powdered, are good for intestinal worms.

It is considered one of the best medicines to promote lactation.  For menstrual problems, it is taken in combination with other herbs such as ginger, cramp bark, and blue cohosh root.  It is often included in commercial herbal preparations designed specifically for women.  It is one of the oldest folk remedies for the treatment of amenorrhea (the absence of the menstrual cycle after the onset of menstruation).

Culpepper says of it:  "It helps swimmings and giddiness in the head, or the disease called vertigo...It is an excellent remedy against yellow jaundice and other infirmities of the gall...It helps plague-sores, boils and itch, the bitings of mad dogs and venomous beasts..."

Blessed Thistle increases appetite and stomach secretions, heals the liver, improves poor circulation,  increases bile production, helps sluggish appetite, stimulates memory, resolves blood clots, strengthens the heart, and alleviates pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung tissue).  It can be used for colds, fever, headaches, digestive problems as well as gas in the intestines, constipation, liver troubles, and dropsy.   Hopman’s A Druid’s Herbal recommneds the combination of Blessed Thistle, peppermint, elder flower and ginger in a tea for cold, fever and backache.

Care should be taken not to make the tea too strong as it may cause vomiting. Tea is also used for boils, chilblains, deafness, gout, migraines, suppressed menses, jaundice, and ringworm.  The plant is used externally in the treatment of wounds and ulcers.

Four different ways of using Blessed Thistle have been recommended: It may be eaten in the green leaf, with bread and butter for breakfast, like Watercress; the dried leaves may be made into a powder and taken in wine or otherwise every day; a wine glassful of the juice may be taken every day, or, which is the usual and the best method, an infusion may be made of the dried herb, taken any time as a preventive, or when intended to remove disease, at bed time, as it causes copious perspiration.

Cautions:  Those with allergies to the Daisy family should take care if considering Blessed Thistle; but outright allergic reaction is extremely rare.  Using too much of this herb will cause vomiting.

When crushed in a mill to destroy the prickles, the leaves of all Thistles have proved excellent food for cattle and horses. This kind of fodder was formerly used to a great extent in Scotland before the introduction of special green crops for the purpose. The young stems of many of the Thistles are also edible, and the seeds of all the species yield a good oil by expression.

Many of the other Thistles may be used as substitutes for the Blessed Thistle. The seeds of the Milk Thistle (Carduus Marianus), known also as Silybum Marianum, have similar properties and uses, and the Cotton Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, etc., have also been employed for like purposes.

The young leaves can be eaten raw. Flower heads, harvested before the flowers open, have been used as a globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus) substitute. The flower heads are rather small and using them in this way is very fiddly. The root can be boiled as a pot herb.

In pagan ritual it has been used in healing spells and in association with the god Pan, as well as to ward off all sorts of malevolent magic, bless an individual or endeavor, and counteract the effects of a hex or curse.   It was added to the Ritual Cup for spiritual purification and taken by the Priest to invoke the Sun God and to communicate with the spirit realm.  In A compendium of Herbal Magick, Wiccan priest Paul Beyerl, associates Cnicus benedictus with Male Mysteries and God invocation.  He states that Blessed Thistle is "An herbe which holds the ability to help a priest move into the more positive aspects of men’s mysteries." 

Cunningham says in The Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs that "Wizards in England used to select the tallest thistle in the patch to use as a magical wand or walking stick".  While they don’t generally get high enough to use as a staff, the stalks of Blessed Thistle are indeed excellent for making wands.

Carried for energy and vitality, placing thistle in a room is said to renew the spirit of all within.  It is used as an herb of protection in the ritual bath as well as in the chalice and strew to cleanse buildings or rooms.   It was thrown onto a fire to protect the house from lightning and grown in the home or garden to ward off thieves.  It is associated with Yule in invoking the newly born Sun, bringing spiritual, physical and financial blessings.  Worn as a talesman it is said to drive away melancholy, while some used it as an aphrodisiac.

In the  Christian creation myth, Adam is cursed for eating the forbidden fruit and condemned to work the soil for his sustenance: 'Thorns also and Thistles shall it bring forth to thee.'   During one of his military campaigns, the Emperor Charlemagne's troops came down with a bit of the plague. An angel came to Charlemagne in his sleep and told him that if he were to shoot an arrow in the air, the arrow would land on the plant that would cure his men. The arrow fell on a big patch of Cnicus benedictus, and the emperor fed it to his troops. Their lives were saved, and the plant was dubbed the Blessed Thistle.

Being an annual, Blessed Thistle is propagated by seed and germinates in one to three weeks. It thrives in any ordinary soil but cannot grow in the shade.  Allow 2 feet each way when thinning out the seedlings.  The seeds are usually sown in spring, but if the newly-ripened seeds are sown in September or October in sheltered situations, it is possible to have supplies of the herb green, both summer and winter.

The crop should be harvested when the plants break into bloom and either used fresh or hung by the roots to dry in a moisture-free location. When harvesting, pull the plants up by the roots and wash off the dirt. Care should be taken to leave at least five plants in the garden so that they can reseed for next year’s crop. As the flower heads on the existing plants dry, you can help the reseeding process by breaking the dry seed heads up and turning them into the soil. This is important to do because birds like the seeds, and if they have a chance at them, your next year’s crop will be reduced. Also, the seed comes with "whirlybirds" that catch the wind, and your Blessed Thistle bed is apt to move around the garden very quickly and agressively if you don’t deal with the seed heads yourself.

Resources include: 

A Modern Herbal 
The Backyard Herbalist
Sherry Eldridge 
Medicinal Herb Info
Natueral Medicinal Herbs
Planet Botanic



Sawang Ijo Asri said...

good article

Si said...

Very good artical, Thank you.

Blessed Be

Kanchana Rathnayake said...

Nice blog