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 [556] 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 [557]

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 [558]

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 [559] 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, [560] 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.