In the Herb Garden this week – Blessed Thistle

Blessed Thistle (Cnicus Benedictus/Carduus Benedictus/Centaurea benedicta)

 This member of the thistle family struggles with its name in Latin and even in English as it is sometimes called Holy Thistle instead. However, it has been valued for many centuries as a remedy for a wide range of ailments and is recommended in numerous historic herbals. In 1568 the botanist William Turner wrote that it was ‘good for the headache’, ‘for any ache in the body’, and that ‘there was nothing better for the canker and old rotten sores than the leaves, juice, broth, powder and water’ of the Holy Thistle – in other words, a cure for plague. Even Shakespeare, in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ says: ‘Get you some of this Carduus Benedictus and lay it to your heart; it is the only thing for a qualm…’

In the eighteenth century, Dr Meyrick of Birmingham wrote that ‘the leaves are bitter and stomatic’ and that ‘in smaller doses it is good to excite an appetite and prevent sickness’. In larger doses it did quite the opposite, a result much valued by Dr Darwin and his contemporaries unfortunately.

We now know that Blessed Thistle is mildly antibiotic and does indeed make a healing balm for wounds and sores. There are plenty of other ways you could take it however: Mrs Grieve in her Modern Herbal (1931) says ‘it may be eaten in the green leaf with bread and butter for breakfast, like watercress’. I have not been brave enough to try this yet as the leaves look very tough and prickly. Perhaps we should just enjoy looking at the starry yellow flowers which are still cheering up the garden in this late summer time when some herbs have only seed heads left now.