HOLY THISTLE - " LAY IT TO YOUR HEART": HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF HOLY THISTLE
HOLY THISTLE, BLESSED THISTLE, SPOTTED THISTLE, CENTAUREA BENEDICTA
The Holy thistle is also known as the Blessed thistle, Saint Benedict’s thistle and the Spotted thistle, and has many other names. In Shakespeare’s time it was Carduus Benedictus and is mentioned as such in Act III scene iv of “Much Ado About Nothing”:-
“Marg: Get you some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus, and lay it to your heart: it is the only thing for a qualm.”
It has recently been renamed as it was formerly the only plant in the Cnicus genus, and was known as Cnicus benedictus. It is sometimes confused with the milk thistle (Silybium marianum) which is also called Our Lady’s Thistle, but it has different medicinal properties.
The plant is native to the Mediterranean region and spreads through to
in the east. It has yellow flowers surrounded by tiny spines and the leaves have spines along their edges. It flowers in June or July depending on where it is, and is best harvested when it first flowers, and after the dew has gone from it, so that it is easy to dry. Iran
The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that it could lift curses and so it was used to protect from witches and evil spirits as well as feelings of restlessness which were thought to be caused by the devil.
In the Middle Ages it was used as a cure-all and it was believed that it was effective against the bubonic plague which swept through
Europe during that era. Monks grew it in their monastery gardens and used it as a general health tonic. It was mentioned by Turner, a 16th century British herbalist who had this to say about the plant in 1568:-
“It is very good for the headache and the megram, for the use of the juice or powder of the leaves, preserveth and keepeth a man from the headache, and healeth it being present. It is good for any ache in the body and strengtheneth the members of the whole body, and fasteneth loose sinews and weak. It is also good for the dropsy. It helpeth the memory and amendeth thick hearing. The leaves provoke sweat. There is nothing better for the canker and old rotten and festering sores than the leaves, juice, broth, powder and water of Carduus benedictus.”
Nicholas Culpeper writing in his Herball a century later says this:-
“It is an excellent remedy against yellow jaundice and other infirmities of the gall because Mars governs choller. It strengthens the attractive faculty in man, and clarifies the blood, because the one is ruled by Mars. The continual drinking the decoction of it helps red faeces, tetters and ringworm, because Mars causeth them. It helps plague- sores, boils and itch, the bitings of mad dogs and venomous beasts, all which infirmities are under Mars. Thus you see what it doth by sympathy…It cures Quarten Agues and other diseases of Melancholy … Also it provokes Urine, the stopping of which is usually caused by Mars or the Moon.”
The German “Father of Botany, Jacobus Theodorus Tabernaemontanus (1525-90) wrote this about the Holy Thistle in his Neuwe Kreuterbuch (New Herb book) which was published in 1588:-
“This herb is especially good against the pestilence and all other poisonous weaknesses.”
it is recommended by the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation, along with fenugreek, to promote the milk flow in breastfeeding mothers. Canada
It has been used in making alcoholic drinks and bitters along with angelica (the root of the Holy Ghost) which are aimed at aiding digestion. However, if you are allergic to other members of the Asteraceae (daisy) family of plants such as marigolds, ragweed and chrysanthemums, among others, you should avoid this plant.
The plant can produce diarrhoea and vomiting if taken in too large doses, so if you are using it as a tisane you should take only 5 gr of the dried herb to 1 cup of boiling water. An ounce of the herb can be used to 1 pint of boiling water and this can be put on wounds and sores and used externally to help with skin problems, wounds and ulcers. The powdered leaves of the Holy thistle are said to get rid of internal worms, but perhaps that is because of its purgative qualities.
Holy thistle can be used for coughs, colds, intermittent fevers such as malaria as it has diaphoretic properties and promotes sweat. It is also said to have diuretic qualities. The infusion or tisane is used for flatulence, digestive problems and to stimulate the appetite in anorexics and those suffering from depression as it causes secretion of gastric juices and production of saliva. It is said to be able to relieve the pains associated with gout, rheumatism and arthritis, and is an expectorant, so useful in removing excess mucous from the lungs.
Research has shown that in vitro it is effective against Candida, and can kill some cancer cells, but more research is needed on this plant. It is antibacterial and possibly anti-inflammatory and has anti-cancer possibilities, but why this is so is not yet known.
You should not take this plant if you are pregnant or allergic to the daisy family of plants.