In the Middle Ages this handsome member of the thistle family was used in the treatment of many diseases. Holy powers were attributed to the herb and it thus came to be known as the Holly or Blessed Thistle.
Blessed thistle, cnicus benedictus, is an attractive annual herb grown as an ornamental plant in the garden, though it can be found growing in the wild as a garden escape. Blessed thistle has long, narrow, prickly leaves ending in spines; they are mostly variegated with deep white veins. The stem grows to medium height with many branches, which bear pale yellow flowers encased in a prickly calyx in July. The whole plant is covered with soft hairs.
As an annual, blessed thistle is propagated in the spring by sowing the seed in ordinary garden soil, where you wish the plant to flower. Thin the seedlings to l21n (30cm) apart.
The whole herb is used medicinally and can be used fresh or dried. To dry, gather the leaves and flowering tops in July when the plant is just coming into flower. Dry and store in the usual way.
Blessed thistle is mostly used as a tonic and is taken as a cold infusion. It stimulates the appetite and is good for indigestion and for settling mild liver disorders. A warm infusion can be given to nursing mothers to stimulate the flow of milk. A small glassful of a hot infusion of blessed thistle taken last thing at night will help to increase perspiration and so reduce a fever. Avoid using a strong infusion as it will act as an emetic and do not take the herb during pregnancy. Large doses of blessed thistle can irritate the mouth, digestive tract and kidneys and should be used with care.
* To make an infusion: Pour 2 cups of boiling water over a handful of the dried herb and a/low it to stand for /0 minutes before straining and drinking warm, or leave to get completely cold. To stimulate the appetite take a small glassful twice a day before meals. The infusion also helps to prevent giddiness.
* The juice of blessed thistle leaves rubbed on to the forehead will ease a headache or migraine and if sips of cold infusion are taken at the same time it will help to prevent feelings of nausea. Care must be taken not to get the juice anywhere near the eyes.
A compress made by dipping pieces of lint into a strong decoction of the herb is helpful in soothing irritable skin.
* To make the decoction: Use / part dried herb to 2 parts of water, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for /0 minutes. Strain and pour into a bottle. Store in the refrigerator.