Introduction: To many the tribe of Thistle are seen as invaders and despoilers of our cultivated crop lands. Yet nothing could be further from the truth for they provide both food and fodder in times of want and in many cases blessed relief for stubborn medical problems.
The following selection of information is taken from 3 sources and is a small indication of their utility in the affairs of man.
1. USD 1926 Part II
2. Culpeper�s Complete Herbal.
Thistle USD 1926 Part II.
Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. (Cnicus arvensis, Hoffm.) Canada Thistle.
This is a European plant, but widely naturalized in this country. To it have been attributed diaphoretic, emetic, and tonic properties, according to Herman J. Pierce (A. J. P., Ixviii, 1896), contains a volatile alkaloid, and also cnicin, C42H56O15. This is crystallizable, inodorous, very bitter, neutral, scarcely soluble in cold water, more soluble in boiling water, and soluble in all proportions in alcohol. It is analogous to Salicin in composition. It is said to possess emetic and emmenagogue properties.
Cnicus benedictus L. (Centaurea benedicta L.) Blessed Thistle. Chardon benit, Fr. Herba Cardui Benedicti, P. G. Benedieten Distel, G. (Fam. Compositae.)
This is an annual herb, common in Europe and occasionally seen on roadsides and waste places in the United States. The leaves were formerly official. They should be gathered when the plant is in flower, quickly dried, and kept in a dry place. The herb has a feeble, unpleasant odor and an intensely bitter taste, more disagreeable in the fresh then in the dried plant.
Water and alcohol extract its virtues. The infusion with cold water is a grateful bitter; the decoction is nauseous, and offensive to the stomach. The active constituents are volatile oil and cnicin. It has been used as a bitter tonic, and is, in larger quantities, emetic.
Tonic dose, from half a drachm to one drachm (2.0-3.9 Gm.) preferably given as an infusion.
Silybum Marianum (L.) Gaertn. (Mariana Mariana (L.) Hill, Carduus Marianus L.) (Milk Thistle. Lady's Thistle (Fam. Composites) was of old used for the same purpose as C. benedictus. Rademacher attributed great value to the seeds in hemorrhages, particularly when connected with diseased liver or spleen. A decoction (two ounces to the pint of water), in doses of four fluidrachms (15 cc.) every hour, has been used in amenorrhea and menorrhagia.
Culpeper�s Complete Herbal. The Thistles
THE MELANCHOLY THISTLE
OUR LADY'S THISTLE.
THE WOOLLEN, OR COTTON THISTLE.
THE FULLER'S THISTLE, OR TEASLE.
A Modern Herbal. Mrs. M Grieve F.R.H.S.
Thistles will soon monopolize a large extent of country to the extinction of other plants, as they have done in parts of the American prairies, in Canada and British Columbia, and as they did in Australia, till a stringent Act of Parliament was passed, about twenty years ago, imposing heavy penalties upon all who neglected to destroy Thistles on their land, every man being now compelled to root out, within fourteen days, any Thistle that may lift up its head, Government inspectors being specially appointed to carry out the enforcement of the law.
The growth of weeds in Great Britain, having, in the opinion of many, also reached disturbing proportions, it is now proposed to enact a similar law in this country, and the Smallholders' Union is bringing forward a 'Bill to prevent the spread of noxious weeds in England and Wales,' the provisions being similar to the Australian law - weed-infested roadsides, as well as badly-cleared cultivated land, to come within the scope of the enactment.
Among the thirteen noxious weeds enumerated in the proposed Bill, the name of Thistle is naturally to be found. And yet in medicine Thistles are far from useless. When beaten up or 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.
Two or three of our native species are handsome enough to be worthy of a place in gardens. Some species which flourish in hotter and drier climates than our own, such as the handsome Yellow Thistles of the south of Europe, Scolymus, are cultivated for that purpose, and have a classical interest, being mentioned by Hesiod as the flower of summer. This striking plant, crowned with its golden flowers, is abundant throughout Sicily. The Fish-bone Thistle (Chanuepeuce diacantha), from Syria, is also a very handsome plant. A grand Scarlet Thistle from Mexico (Erythrolena conspicua) was grown in England some fifty years ago, but is now never seen.
THISTLE, HOLY Carbenia benedicta (BERUL.)
Shakespeare in Much Ado about Nothing, says: 'Get you some of this
distilled Carduus Benedictus and lay it to your heart; it is the only thing
for a qualm. ... I mean plain Holy Thistle.' The 'distilled leaves, it says
'helpeth the hart,' 'expelleth all poyson taken in at the mouth and other
corruption that doth hurt and annoye the hart," and 'the juice of it is
outwardly applied to the bodie' ('lay it to your heart,' Sh.), 'therefore I
counsell all that have Gardens to nourish it, that they may have it always
to their own use, and the use of their neighbours that lacke it.'
Description. 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 flower heads. The leaves are long,
narrow, clasping the dull green stem, with prominent pale veins, the
irregular teeth of the wavy margin ending in spines. The flowers are pale
yellow, in green prickly heads, each scale of the involucre, or covering of
the head, ending also in a long, brown bristle. The whole plant, leaves,
stalks and also the flower heads, are covered with a thin down. It grows
more compactly in some soils than in others. Cultivation. Being an annual,
Blessed Thistle is propagated by seed. It thrives in any ordinary soil.
Allow 2 feet each way when thinning out the seedlings. Though occurring
sometimes in waste places in England as an escape from cultivation, it
cannot be considered indigenous to this country. 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.
It is chiefly used now for nursing mothers, the warm infusion scarcely ever failing to procure a proper supply of milk. It is considered one of the best medicines which can be used for the purpose. Turner (1568) says: '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 strengthened! 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.'
Culpepper (1652) writes of it: 'It is a herb of Mars, and under the Sign Aries. It helps swimmings and giddiness in the head, or the disease called vertigo, because Aries is the House of Mars. 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 faces, 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. 'By Antypathy to other Planets: it cures the French Pox by Antypathy to Venus who governs it. It strengthens the memory and cures deafness by Antypathy to Saturn, who hath his fall in Aries which Rules the Head. It cures Quarten Agues and other diseases of Melancholy, and a dust Choller by Sympathy to Saturn, Mars being exalted in Capricorn. Also it provokes Urine, the stopping of which is usually caused by Mars or the Moon.'
Mattheolus and Fuschius wrote also of Carduus benedictus: 'It is a plant
of great virtue; it helpeth inwardly and outwardly; it strengthens all the
principal members of the body, as the brain, the heart, the stomach, the
liver, the lungs and the kidney; it is also a preservative against all
disease, for it causes perspiration, by which the body is purged of much
corruption, such as breedeth diseases; it expelleth the venom of infection;
it consumes and wastes away all bad humours; therefore, give God thanks for
his goodness, Who hath given this herb and all others for the benefit of our
Many of the other Thistles may be used as substitute for the Blessed Thistle. The seeds of the Milk Thistle (Carduus Manama), known also as Silybum Marianum, have similar properties and uses, and the Cotton Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, etc., have also been employed for like purposes.
THISTLE, MILK. Silybum Marianum
Description. It is a fine, tall plant, about J the size of the Cotton Thistle, with cut-into root-leaves, waved and spiny at the margin, of a deep, glossy green, with milk-white vein?, and is found not uncommonly in hedge banks and on waste ground, especially by buildings, which causes some authorities to consider that it may not be a true native.
In Scotland it is rare. This handsome plant is not unworthy of a place in our gardens and shrubberies and was formerly frequently cultivated. The stalks, like those of most of our larger Thistles, may be eaten, and are palatable and nutritious. The leaves also may be eaten as a salad when young. Bryant, in his Flora Dietetica, writes of it: 'The young shoots in the spring, cut close to the root with part of the stalk on, is one of the best boiling salads that is eaten, and surpasses the finest cabbage. They were sometimes baked in pies. The roots may be eaten like those of Salsify.' In some districts the leaves are called 'Pig Leaves,' probably because pigs like them, and the seeds are a favourite food of goldfinches.
The common statement that this bird lines its nest with thistledown is
scarcely accurate, the substance being in most cases the down of Colt's-foot
(Tussilago), or the cotton down from the willow, both of which are
procurable at the building season, whereas thistledown is at that time
immature. Westmacott, writing in 1694, says of this Thistle: 'It is a Friend
to the Liver and Blood: the prickles cut off, they were formerly used to be
boiled in the Spring and eaten with other herbs; but as the World decays, so
doth the Use of good old things and others more delicate and less virtuous
brought in.' The heads of this Thistle formerly were eaten, boiled, treated
like those of the Artichoke.
Medicinal Action and Uses. The seeds of this plant are used nowadays for the same Purpose as Blessed Thistle, and on this point John Evelyn wrote: 'Disarmed of its prickles and boiled, it is worthy of esteem, and thought to be a great breeder of milk and proper diet for women who are nurses.' It is in popular use in Germany for curing jaundice and kindred biliary derangements. It also acts as a demulcent in catarrh and pleurisy. The decoction when applied externally is said to have proved beneficial in cases of cancer.
Gerard wrote of the Milk Thistle that 'the root if borne about one doth expel melancholy and remove all diseases connected therewith. My opinion is that this is the best remedy that grows against all melancholy diseases,' which was another way of saying that it had good action on the liver. He also tells us: 'Dioscorides affirmed that the seeds being drunke are a remedy for infants that have their sinews drawn together, and for those that be bitten of serpents:' and we find in a record of old Saxon remedies that 'this wort if hung upon a man's neck it setteth snakes to flight." The seeds were also formerly thought to cure hydrophobia.
Culpepper considered the Milk Thistle to be as efficient as Carduus benedictus for agues, and preventing and curing the infection of the plague, and also for removal of obstructions of the liver and spleen. He recommends the infusion of the fresh root and seeds, not only as good against jaundice, also for breaking and expelling stone and being good for dropsy when taken internally, but in addition, to be applied externally, with cloths, to the liver. With other writers, he recommends the young, tender plant (after removing the prickles) to be boiled and eaten in the spring as a blood cleanser.
A tincture is prepared by homoeopathists for medicinal use from equal parts of the root and the seeds with the hull attached. It is said that the empirical nostrum, anti-glaireux, of Count Mattaei, is prepared from this species of Thistle. Thistles in general, according to Culpepper, are under the dominion of Jupiter.
The Scotch Thistle, or Cotton Thistle (Onopordon Acanthium) is one of the most beautiful of British plants, not uncommon in England, by roadsides and in waste places, particularly in chalky and sandy soils in the southern counties.
Description. It is a biennial, flowering in late summer and autumn. The erect stem, 18 inches to 5 feet high, is very stout and much branched, furnished with wing-like appendages (the decurrent bases of the leaves) which are broader than its own diameter. The leaves are very large, waved and with sharp prickles on the margin. The flowers are light purple and surrounded with a nearly globular involucre, with scales terminating in strong, yellow spines. The whole plant is hoary with a white, cottony down, that comes off readily when rubbed, and causes the young leaves to be quite white. From the presence of this covering, the Thistle has obtained its popular name of Cotton or Woolly Thistle.
This species is one of the stiffest and most thorny of its race, and its sharp spines well agree with Gerard's description of the plant as 'set full of most horrible sharp prickles, so that it is impossible for man or beast to touch the same without great hurt and danger."
Which is the true Scotch Thistle even the Scottish antiquarians cannot decide, but it is generally considered to be this species of Thistle that was originally the badge of the House of Stuart, and came to be regarded as the national emblem of Scotland. The first heraldic use of the plant would appear to be in the inventory of the property of James III of Scotland, made at his death in 1458, where a hanging embroidered with 'thrissils' is mentioned. It was, undoubtedly, a national badge in 1503, in which year Dunbar wrote his poetic allegory, 'The Thrissill and the Rose,' on the union of James IV and Princess Margaret of England. The Order of the Thistle, which claims, with the exception of the Garter, to be the most ancient of our Orders, was instituted in 1540 by James V, and revived by James VII of Scotland and Second of England, who created eight Knights in 1687. The expressive motto of the Order, Nemo me impune lacessit (which would seem to apply most aptly to the species just described), appears surrounding the Thistle that occupies the centre of the coinage of James VI. From that date until now, the Thistle has had a place on our coins.
Pliny states, and mediaeval writers repeat, that a decoction of Thistles applied to a bald head would restore a healthy growth of hair.
Medicinal Action and Uses. The Ancients supposed this Thistle to be a specific in cancerous complaints, and in more modern times the juice is said to have been applied with good effect to cancers and ulcers. A decoction of the root is astringent and diminishes discharges from mucous membranes. Gerard tells us, on the authority of Dioscorides and Pliny, that 'the leaves and root hereof are a remedy for those that have their bodies drawn backwards,' and Culpepper explains that not only is the juice therefore good for a crick in the neck, but also as a remedy for rickets in children. It was considered also to be good in nervous complaints.
The name of the genus is derived from the Greek words onos (an ass) and per don (I disperse wind), the species being said to produce this effect in asses. The juicy receptacle or disk on which the florets are placed was used in earlier times as the Artichoke - which is also a member of the Thistle tribe. The young stalks, when stripped of their rind, may be eaten like those of the Burdock.
The cotton is occasionally collected from the stem and used to stuff pillows, and the oil obtained from the seeds has been used on the Continent for burning, both in lamps and for ordinary culinary purposes. Twelve pounds of the seeds are said to produce, when heat is used in expression, about 3 lb. of oil.
The greater number of the Thistles are assigned to the genus Carduus. The derivation of the name of this genus is difficult to determine; by some orders it is said to come from the Greek cheuro, a technical word denoting the operation of carding wool, to which process the heads of some of the species are applicable.
THISTLE, DWARF. Carduus acaulis
THISTLE, CREEPING PLUME.
Unlike most of the Thistles, the leaves are not continued down the stem at all, and are much simpler in form than the ordinary type of Thistle foliage. Their edges have small bristle-like teeth. The flower heads are borne, singly on long stalks, the bracts that form the involucre being quite destitute of prickles.
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