Thistles are comprised in a large mixed genus of our English weeds,
and wild plants, several of them possessing attributed medicinal
virtues. Some of these are Thistles proper, as the Carduus, the
Cnicus, and the Carlina: others are Teasels, Eryngiums, and
Globe Thistles, etc. Consideration should be given here to the
Carduus marianus, or Lady's Thistle, the common  Carline
Thistle, the Carduus benedictus (Blessed
Thistle), the wild Teasel
(Dipsacus), and the Fuller's Teasel, as Herbal Simples; whilst
others of minor curative usefulness are to be incidentally mentioned.
As a class Thistles have been held sacred to Thor, because, say the
old authors, receiving their bright colours from the lightning, and
because protecting those who cultivate them from its destructive
In Devon and Cornwall Thistles are commonly known as Dazzels,
or Dashel flowers. As a rule they flourish best in hot dry climates.
The Carduus marianus (Lady's Thistle), Milk Thistle, or Holy
Thistle, grows abundantly in waste places, and near gardens
throughout the British Isles, but it is not a native plant. The term
Carduus, or Cardinal, refers to its spring leaves, and the
adjectives Marianus, Milk, and Holy, have been assigned
through a tradition that some drops of the Virgin Mary's milk fell on
the herb, and became exhibited in the white veins of its leaves. By
some persons this Thistle is taken as the emblem of Scotland.
Dioscorides told of the Milk Thistle, the seeds being drunk are a
remedy for infants that have their sinews drawn together. He
further said: The root if borne about one doth expel melancholy,
and remove all diseases connected therewith. Modern writers do
laugh at this: Let them laugh that win! My opinion is that this is the
best remedy that grows against all melancholy diseases.
The fruit of the Carduus marianus contains an oily bitter seed: the
tender leaves in spring may be eaten as a salad; and the young
peeled stalks, after being soaked, are excellent boiled, or baked in
pies. The heads of this Thistle before the flowers open may be 
cooked like artichokes. The seeds were formerly thought to cure
hydrophobia. They act as a demulcent in catarrh and pleurisy, being
also a favourite food of Goldfinches. A decoction of the seeds when
applied externally is said to have proved beneficial in cases of
Thistle down was at one time gathered by poor persons and sold for
stuffing pillows. It is very prolific in germination, and an old saying
runs on this score:--
Cut your Thistles before St. John,
Or you'll have two instead of one.
This Milk Thistle (Carduus marianus) is said to be the empirical
nostrum, anti-glaireux, of Count Mattaei.
Disarmed of its prickles, writes John Evelyn, and boiled, it is
worth esteem, and thought to be a great breeder of milk, and proper
diet for women who are nurses.
In Germany it is very popular for curing jaundice and kindred
biliary derangements. When taken by healthy provers in varying
quantities to test its toxic effects the plant has caused distension of
the whole abdomen, especially on the right side, with tenderness on
pressure over the liver, and with a deficiency of bile in hard knotty
stools, the colouring matter of the faeces being found by chemical
tests present in the urine: so that a preparation of this Thistle
modified in strength, and considerably diluted in its doses proves
truly homoeopathic to simple obstructive jaundice through inaction
of the liver, and readily cures the disorder. A tincture is prepared
(H.) for medicinal use from equal parts of the root, and the seeds
(with the hull on) together with spirit of wine.
The Carduus benedictus (Blessed Thistle) was first 
cultivated by Gerard in 1597, and has since become a common
medicinal Simple. It was at one time considered to be almost a
panacea, and capable of curing even the plague by its antiseptic
This Thistle was a herb of Mars, and, as Gerard says: It helpeth
giddiness of the head: also it is an excellent remedy against the
yellow jaundice. It strengthens the memory, cures deafness, and
helps the bitings of mad dogs and venomous beasts. It contains a
bitter principle cnicin, resembling the similar tonic constituent of
the Dandelion, this being likewise useful for stimulating a sluggish
liver to more healthy action.
The infusion should be made with cold water: when kept it forms a
salt on its surface like nitre. The herb does not yield its virtues to
spirit of wine as a tincture. Its taste is intensely bitter.
The Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris) was formerly used in
magical incantations. It possesses medicinal qualities very like those
of Elecampane, being diaphoretic, and in larger doses purgative.
The herb contains some resin, and a volatile essential oil of a
camphoraceous nature, like that of Elecampane, and useful for
similar purposes, as cordial and antiseptic. This Thistle grows on
dry heaths especially near the sea, and is easily distinguished from
other Thistles by the straw-coloured glossy radiate long inner scales
of its outer floral cup. They rise up over the florets in wet weather.
The whole plant is very durable, like that of the everlasting
flowers: Cudweed (Antennaria).
The name Carlina was given because the Thistle was used by
Charles the Great as a remedy against the plague. It was revealed to
him when praying for some means to stay this pestilence which was
destroying his army. In his sleep there appeared to him an angel
who shot  an arrow from a cross bow, telling him to mark the
plant upon which it fell: for that with such plant he might cure his
soldiers of the dire epidemic: which event really happened, the herb
thus indicated being the said thistle. In Anglo-Saxon it was the
ever-throat, or boar-throat.
On the Continent a large white blossom of this species is nailed
upon cottage doors by way of a barometer to indicate the weather if
remaining open or closing.
The wild Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) grows commonly in waste
places, having tall stems or stalks, at the bottom of which are leaves
(like bracts) united at their sides so as to form a cup, open upwards,
around the base of the stalk, and hence the term Dipsacus,
thirsty. This cup serves to retain rain water, which is thought to
acquire curative properties, being used, for one purpose, to remove
warts. The cup is called Venus' basin, and its contents, says Ray, are
of service ad verrucas abigendas; also it is named Barber's Brush,
and Church Broom.
The Fuller's Teasel, or Thistle (Dipsacus fullonum) is so termed
from its use in combing and dressing cloth,--teasan, to tease,--
three Teaselheads being the arms of the Cloth Weavers' Company.
This is found in the neighbourhood of the cloth districts, but is not
considered to be a British plant. It is probably a cultivated variety of
the wild Teasel, but differs by having the bristles of its receptacles
The Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), named sonchus because
of its soft spikes instead of prickles, grows commonly as a weed in
gardens, and having milky stalks which are reputed good for
wheezy and short-winded folk, whilst the milk may be used as a
wash for the face. It is named also turn sole because always facing
the sun, and Hare's Thistle (the hare's panacea,  says an old
writer, is the Sow Thistle), or Hare's Lettuce because when fainting
with the heat she recruits her strength with the herb; or if a hare eat
of this herb in the summer when he is mad he shall become whole.
Another similar title of the herb is Hare's palace, since the creature
was thought to get shelter and courage from it. Some suppose that
the botanical term Sonchus signifies apo ton soon ekein, from
its yielding a salubrious juice.
The Sow thistle has been named also Milkweed. According to
tradition it sometimes conceals marvels, or treasures; and in Italian
stories the words, Open Sow Thistle are used as of like
significance with the magical invocation Open sesame. Another
name is Du Tistel or Sprout Thistle; because the plant may be
used for its edible sprouts, which Evelyn says, were eaten by Galen
as a lettuce. And Matthiolus told of the Tuscans in his day Soncho
nostri utuntur hyeme in acetariis.
The Melancholy Thistle (Carduus heterophyllus) has been held
curative of melancholy. It grows most frequently in Scotland and
the North of England, and is a non-prickly plant.