Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus), also known as Spotted Thistle and St. Benedict's Thistle, is a member of the daisy family that is native to the Mediterranean region, North Africa and western Asia. During the Middle Ages, blessed thistle was cultivated in European monastery gardens as a medicinal herb and recommended for gout and digestive complaints. In combination with fenugreek seed, blessed thistle is traditionally used as a galactagogue to stimulate lactation in nursing mothers. It is also among the 27 herbs and spices that flavor Benedictine liqueur, the recipe for which is known only to three people at any time.
Blessed thistle was also credited with being a cure for the plague, an attribute which led to its “blessed” status in the 9th century during the reign of King Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. Concerned over the loss of troops to the disease, the king asked for divine intervention. In response, an angel came to him in a dream and instructed him to launch an arrow into the air and to take note of the plant it landed upon because it would provide the cure. The king’s arrow landed on a crop of thistle, which he dubbed “blessed thistle” and promptly put to use to save his men.
The digestion-enhancing properties of blessed thistle are attributed to sesquiterpene lactones such as cnicin, which stimulate the secretion of saliva and gastric juices as well as the flow of bile. In Germany, the German Commission E has approved of the use of blessed thistle to counter appetite loss and dyspepsia. The herb is also a component of the anti-cancer formula Flor-Essence, in which cnicin appears to kill leukemia cells.
Blessed thistle is typically prepared as a tincture and taken in tea or water before meals. The dried herb may also be prepared as tea, or encapsulated as a dietary supplement.
Precautions: Do not use during pregnancy, or if you have a history of liver or gallbladder disease.