holythistle Holy/Blessed thistle

Holy/Blessed thistle| Cnicus benedictus

general characteristics

general characteristics

Common names include holy thistle, blessed thistle, St Benedicts thistle. Formally known as Carbenia benedictus.

An annual thistle like plant and member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family, it grows (like many other thistles) on waste ground in poorish soil. it was originally native to the Mediterranean and Middle East but is now widespread throughout Europe and other parts of the world such as the US. The reddish tinged stem reaches around 2 feet in height with large thistle like leaves that have prominent pale coloured veins running through them. Its flowers are small and pale yellow in colour and grow up along the length of the stem. It produces a lot of seed which germinates happily to produce the next generation when in a sunny position.


Its use as a medicine can be traced back to at least the 1500's where it was prized by the monasteries and early herbalists as a famed and highly respected preventative and remedy against the plague and other infectious type diseases. It is considered an effective yet gentle all round tonic healer. It is also an ingredient in the liqueur Benedictine.

It can also be crushed to destroy the spiny leaves and offered to cattle and horses and other animals as a useful feed.


Holy thistle dried plant and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.







harvesting and preparation

harvesting and preparation

The whole of the above ground portion of the plant is harvested when the flowers are just opening (but before they open fully) in July or just the leaves can be picked at any time before flowering. Leave some plants to run to seed for next years plants to develop.
Dry the plants slowly in a warm airy place and when fully dry rub through the hands with some gloves on to turn it into more useful 'cut herb' sized pieces. Store in an airtight container away from direct light.
The young leaves can be eaten fresh as a salad vegetable (before they develop their spikes) and the unopened flower buds can be eaten like artichoke heads.



Holy thistle dried herb and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.



therapeutic actions and uses

therapeutic actions and uses

Blessed or Holy thistle has been used in medicine for many hundreds of years and was even cultivated in medicinal herb gardens (despite its humble appearance) for its fine properties as a digestive tonic and all round blood cleanser in the old fashioned sense for 'bad blood'. It is rich in potassium and selenium.


Its tonic reputation is not only limited to the organs of digestion such as the stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas (raises low blood sugar) and spleen but also extend to the brain, heart and kidneys.


The holy/blessed thistle is a powerful but gentle liver cleanser and digestive tonic. It helps to stimulate the appetite, improves the digestive process and alleviates indigestion, raises blood sugar levels (and balances), aids the gallbladder and stimulates the flow of bile making it useful for jaundice, gallbladder disorders, anorexia and low appetite, helps with obesity, also helps reverse weight loss, prevents vomiting (though causes it in larger doses) and eases nausea, eases oesophagitis, worms, parasites, IBSgastritis, heartburn, colitis, dysentery, helps to detox the liver during alcohol dependence and alleviates bloating and flatulence.


Its digestive and tonic abilities also include helping with gallstones and gallbladder disorders. It is a cholagogue, which means it encourages the production and secretion of bile. This explains how it can help improve the digestion of fats, control cholesterol levels in the blood, prevent gallstones and improve digestion generally.


It can help ease the pain of menstruation, PMS/ PMT, menstrual headaches, regulate the periods of young women who are just started to menstruate and help to prepare the womb for an easy childbirth in the labour formula. Conditions such as fibroids can also be improved with holy thistle as can the general health and condition of the uterus and with pregnancy issues.


Holy thistle is considered an excellent general heart tonic, so can be used for conditions such as angina. It promotes healthy blood circulation and cleanses and detoxifies the blood also. It is also considered a fine remedy and tonic to the spleen.


Blessed thistle is a prime plant remedy for adding to cleansing or detoxing formulas when treating symptoms of 'dirty blood' such as boils and persistent spots.


It can also be used as a poultice on the skin to help heal and clean animal/insect bites or infected or festering wounds, ulcers or other lesions on the skin.


Chronic headaches and migraine can be relieved with blessed thistle and the brain and circulation to the head is enhanced. This makes it a good herb for improving the memory and enhancing brain function generally. Some describe it as a brain tonic. It has also been used for depression and suicidal tendencies.


It has diaphoretic properties which means that it lowers body temperature in fevers by opening the pores of the skin and encouraging sweating. This makes it useful in fevers and influenza like illness.


As its ancient reputation as a remedy for the plague will attest, it is a good herb to use as a preventative against infectious diseases such as colds, influenza and other diseases that are considered infectious or contagious. Modern researchers have seen anti-microbial and anti-cancer agents in holy thistle.


Holy thistle is perhaps best known by nursing or expecting mothers as it promotes lactation and increases breast milk production, providing the breast with copious amounts of rich and nutritionally enhanced milk. It is capable of inducing lactation in the most stubborn of cases and is a great allay for women of twins and triplets for example where volume of milk may be an issue. It combines well with raspberry leaf for this purpose, use the dried herbs and drink as a tea.


It is thought to positively promote the flow of oxygen to all the tissues, which it achieves with its ability to promote blood flow to all areas of the body, improving the condition of the organs and systems.


It can also be useful in allergies, hayfever and food sensitivities.


It is gently astringent in nature and can help to slow bleeding and ease mucous discharges such as catarrh.


Medicinal actions include cholagogue, diuretic, astringent, diaphoretic, bitter tonic.





dosage and cautions

dosage and cautions

Holy thistle is generally a good safe herb that can be used regularly as part of a herbal formula for general health promotion and for more specific ailments.

*In larger doses (e.g double or triple the maximum dosage stated below) it is an emetic, it will make you vomit. This may be useful in some circumstances such as in a drug overdose for example.

*if you are taking medication for any problem with the stomach (such as antacids or proton pump inhibitors), blessed thistle may change the way these medicine work and have contradictory actions. Blessed thistle works to balance or increase stomach acids and other digestive juice production in order to enhance digestion.



Tincture: 3-6 ml in a little water, 3 times daily.

Dried herb in tea form: 1 teaspoon per cup, 3 times daily.


The young leaves can also be picked and eaten as an addition to salads and similar when their spines are snipped off with scissors.


Add 12 to the child’s age. Divide the child’s age by the total.
E.g. dosage for a 4 year old...... 4 {age} divided by 16 {age + 12} = . 25  or 1/4 of the adult dosage.






Child watering plants




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