Standardized: blessed thistle
Other: holy thistle1
Cnicus benedictus L.2
Plant Family: Asteraceae
Centaurea benedicta (L.) L.2
Dried leaves and flowering stems.
Blessed thistle has been revered since at least the Middle Ages in Europe for its healing properties, at which time it was used as a digestive stimulant, a purifying tonic, and was also eaten as a vegetable. Further, traditional herbalists have employed it to support lactation in nursing mothers. This herb is approved by the German Commission E for its ability to increase appetite and support the digestive process, and is also an approved food additive in the United States as it is often found in liqueurs such as Benedictine.
Blessed thistle has long narrow leaves with white veins and spines, is entirely covered with fine hairs, and boasts yellow flowers with prickly green flower heads that are similar to those of its cousins artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus), and milk thistle (Silybum marianum), who are also in the Asteraceae or sunflower family.3 This annual is native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia and is often found growing as a weed in waste places with poor rocky soil.3
Cultivation And Harvesting
The leaves and flowering tops are best collected in the summer, just after flowering, in the late morning after the dew has evaporated.4
History And Folklore
First used in Ayurvedic medicine,5 blessed thistle eventually made its way to Europe. The Latin name benedictus was derived from blessed thistle's immense healing properties implying its sacred virtues.4,5 By the early sixteenth century, it had securely gained footing in European folk medicine and was cultivated widely in monastery gardens.4,5 Even the famous poet Shakespeare mentioned blessed thistle in his play Much Ado about Nothing (written in 1598-1599 CE). Spiritually, it was associated with purification and therefore used in purification baths. It was also believed that wearing a bit of it would protect one from evil.6 Further, it was associated with the planet Mars, the zodiac of Aries, and the element fire.6,7
Blessed thistle was eaten as a vegetable, made into a powder to mix with wine, or made into fresh juice or tea.4 As this thistle stimulates digestive juices and thus the appetite, it is helpful for sluggish digestion or where there is a lack of appetite. It has served this purpose in both European traditional herbalism and in the Ayurvedic medicine system of India over the generations.5,8,9 In the United States and Germany, blessed thistle has been used in various formulas, particularly as a component of digestive bitters, to support the liver, gallbladder, and overall healthy digestion.1,3,5 Further, it has been administered to support and regulate the female reproductive system due to its action as an emmenagogue.4,9 Additionally, blessed thistle was considered a galactagogue and therefore given to nursing mothers to increase and enrich milk flow.3,4,9 However, it is important to note that large doses can act as an strong emetic.4 Many of the other thistles, such as milk thistle, have similar qualities to blessed thistle. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), in particular, has been used to support the healthy functioning of the liver and gallbladder as well.4 According to herbalist Michael Moore, blessed thistle may be used similarly to other bitters that stimulate the upper gastrointestinal tract such as Artemisia spp., barberry (Berberis vulgaris), and gentian (Gentiana spp.).10 The herb may be applied externally as a poultice for wounds and ulcers as well in order to assist healing and to soothe skin.1,9
Blessed thistle is also part of the secret recipe used to make Benedictine liqueur. 3 As the story goes, in 1510, a Benedictine monk, Don Bernardo Vincelli, created the recipe for this liqueur that contains 27 different herbs, starring angelica (Angelica archangelica), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). However, allegedly only three people on earth (at a time) know the complete recipe for making it.11
Flavor Notes And Energetics
Cooling and drying energetically with bitter taste.
Diuretic, diaphoretic, emetic, tonic1,4 appetizer, astringent, bitter, cholagogue, emmenagogue, galactogogue, vermifuge.3
Uses And Preparations
Dried leaves and flowering stems.
Fresh leaves as a tincture or cooked as a vegetable.
Blessed thistle contains sesquiterpene lactones including cnicin (bitter index = 1:1,800), tannin, lignan lactones (lignanolides), phytosterols, triterpenoids, volatile oils,5 potassium, calcium, magnesium and manganese,3 and small amounts of flavonoids and polyacetylenes.5
The Commission E approved the internal use of blessed thistle as an appetite stimulant and for supporting healthy digestion. It reported that this aromatic bitter herb which is high in the bitter principle cinicin, stimulates the secretion of saliva and gastric juices.5
Blessed thistle is closely related to other Centaurea species that are often referred to as 'knapweeds' and are considered highly invasive species. Often various civic or governmental organizations will use harsh herbicides to 'control' or eradicate these weeds. However, most weeds have medicinal properties, various knapweeds included. So why not just pull these exotic plants out by hand and make some medicine…it's a win-win!
Specific: Persons with allergies to other members of the Asteraceae family (such as feverfew, chamomile, or Echinacea species) should exercise caution with Blessed Thistle as allergic cross-reactivity to Asteraceae plants is common.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- Lust, J. (2014). The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published. Courier Dover Publications.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed on November 24, 2014.
- Khan, I. A., & Abourashed, E. A. (2011). Leung's encyclopedia of common natural ingredients: used in food, drugs and cosmetics. John Wiley & Sons.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical on November 24, 2014.
- Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
- Cunningham, S. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications; 2000.
- Culpeper N. Culpeper's complete herbal: a book of natural remedies for ancient ills. Accessed on November 24, 2014.
- Mills S. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide
- Hoffmann, D. (1998). The Herbal Handbook: A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1985.
- Moore, M. (1995). Principles and Practice of Constitutional Physiology for Herbalists. Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Bisbee, AZ. Accessed at: http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsMM/HRBENRGT.pdf on November 24, 2014.
- Benedictine. Accessed at: http://liquor.com/brands/benedictine/ on November 24, 2014
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.