Blessed Thistle

Cnicus benedictus


Blessed thistle, native to Asia and Europe, is also known as Our Lady’s milk thistle or holy thistle. It gained its name “blessed” from its ability to heal-all. Grandmothers say this herb confers a blessing on all who grow, gather or use it. Infusion of dried blessed thistle, or tincture of the fresh flowering tops, is highly regarded as a tonifying stimulant to fluid flows in the body. When I want a digestive bitter and tonic, I sip a cupful of cold blessed thistle infusion, or use 10-20 drops of tincture. The warm dried plant infusion is tonic to the heart and circulation.

Consistent use of blessed thistle strengthens the brain and memory and helps clear depression. A student of mine saw unmistakable antidepressant effects when taking blessed thistle daily. It also improved her energy. A few drops of blessed thistle tincture promotes abundant milk in nursing mothers - in fact it is my favorite herb for this purpose. It also stimulates and regulates menstruation and is helpful during menopause.

First Nations people use this herb to expel parasites, as an emmenagogue and an emetic. Quinault women drink an infusion of the leaves and flowers as a contraceptive.

I consider blessed thistle an ally when dealing with lung congestion or bronchial infection of any kind. I sip the infusion to help clear phlegm and tone the entire respiratory system. And I have called upon blessed thistle to treat a headache or migraine and to help bring down a fever. A well-strained blessed thistle infusion can be applied as an antiseptic wash on cuts, scrapes, bruises or wounds, and the strained plant material then used as a poultice to help the healing process.

Blessed thistle contains calcium, chromium, potassium, selenium and carotenes. It also offers stores of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and B vitamins. Among its constituents are volatile oils, resins, glycosides, the bitter sesquiterpene lactone ester cnicin, tannin, mucilage, sugars and starch. We eat the young spring leaves of blessed thistle like watercress with bread and butter. The tonifying benefits of blessed thistle are gained by ingesting it in moderate portions: no more than one cupful of infusion daily, 10-20 drops of the tincture.

Flower Essence Blessed thistle flower essence helps manifest ideas into reality, just as the energy of the Green Man stirs seeds into sprouting.

Magical Lore Blessed thistle is an herb of protection. Its presence in an area is said to invoke the god Pan. Keep blessed thistle in a special bag to ensure endurance and the ability to survive any test. Place thistles at the cardinal directions to strengthen prayers of healing for an animal.

Culture I love growing blessed thistle and wouldn’t consider an herb garden without it. At first glance, it's rather insignificant, but closer examination proves it quite intriguing. The plant stays low to the ground and begins to sprawl around midsummer. The flowers are the thing! Easy to miss, they look like fat artichokes in a bud, with a bit of yellow fuzz at the top. Later, they develop lots of golden, needle-like crisscrosses that dry completely intact, keeping their color beautifully.

I believe what the wild hearted grandmothers say about blessed thistle conferring blessings, so I take everyone who visits my garden to see this beneficial plant. In the fall I give seeds away so others can start their own blessed thistle patch. It’s very easy to grow. Put blessed thistle seeds directly into the garden in spring. They enjoy a sunny spot and a good helping of well-rotted compost. I harvest the young, fresh leaves of blessed thistle when they are vibrant, eating them in salads or sandwiches. I gather the entire aboveground portion of the plant during flowering and tincture immediately in alcohol or vinegar, or dry it on screens or in bunches.

WARNING! In large doses, blessed thistle can cause vomiting.

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