Botanical and Common Names
- Family Asteraceae (formerly Compositae)
- Cnicus benedictus (St. Benedict Thistle, Blessed Thistle, Holy Thistle, Spotted Thistle, Cardin)
- Cirsium undulatum (Wavy-leafed Thistle)
- Excessive doses may cause vomiting.
Native to the Mediterranean, this erect, red-stemmed annual grows to a little over two feet, producing spiny leathery leaves, a spiny stem, and yellow flowers in summer and autumn. The fruit has a tuft of hair. It flourishes on dry, stony ground and in open areas. The leaves and flowering tops are collected in summer. The wavy-leafed thistle has erect, white, woolly stems, reaching three feet in height producing lobed and wavy, basal leaves. The lobes are tipped with yellowish spines. The tubular, bell-shaped flower heads are at the top of the stems and are usually a pale purple. The plant can be found growing in prairies, pastures, and disturbed areas of North America.
Its name is thought to have come as a result of a legend from the days of Charlemagne. During one of his plundering excursions, his troops were taken ill with the plague. Supposedly an angel appeared to him in his sleep and told him that if he were to shoot an arrow into the air, the arrow would land on the plant that would cure his men. The arrow fell on a big patch of this herb, and Charlemagne promptly fed it to his men and saved their lives. Its powers are mentioned in virtually all the writings issued during times of epidemic infectious diseases.
During the Renaissance, the herb was used to stimulate milk flow and to deworm children and pets.
Nicholas Turner wrote in his 1568 herbal that the plant was good for canker sores, as well as “old rotten and festering sores”.
The Zunis of North America prepared a tea from the root to drink three times a day as a remedy for diabetes. It was also employed as a contraceptive and as a preintercourse drink to ensure a female child.
The 19th century Shakers in the US, used the plant and its roots as a tonic, sweat inducer, and diuretic and found that triple-strength tea would cause a total evacuation of the intestinal tract.
- bitter tonic
- mild expectorant
- sesquiterpene lactones (including cnicin)
- volatile oil
- Leaves, flowering tops
A good digestive tonic, it is used for mild digestive complaints, stimulating the secretions in the stomach, intestines, and gallbladder. It does have a nasty flavour, though, and needs to be helped with a good dose of honey.
A mild expectorant and antibiotic, it has been used to treat intermittent fevers and makes a good healing balm for wounds and sores.
Herbalists used the herb to cure, not only the plague, but also agues and jaundice. The roots were soaked in wine and used as a medicine. When young and tender, it was also eaten as a vegetable, providing a good blood purifier. It has since proven its ability to remove wastes speedily from the body.
Some European herbalists used the herb to strengthen and purify the mind, a feature that is much needed today.
Some herbalists use the herb to treat infectious diseases, as well as liver and mucous congestion, loss of appetite, dyspepsia, jaundice, and hepatitis. It also resolves blood clots and stops bleeding.