Various species of thistles have long been used as both food and medicine. Long before milk thistle (Silybum marianum) became a popular hepatoprotective remedy, NSP Managers were using another species, blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), in their healing work. Like its cousin milk thistle, blessed thistle has a very specific action on the liver. Although it has not been scientifically documented to have the hepatoprotective effects of milk thistle, many herbalists feel that it does, as both plants share other properties.
Thistles are paradoxical plants. On the surface, they seem to be a curse. Their prickly nature assaults us. They are aggressive and sometimes invasive. They are difficult to eradiate, being hard to dig up and resistant to herbacides. They are warrior plants by nature, neither gentle nor friendly. This doesn’t mean, however, that they are here simply to afflict and torment mankind. In reality, they were created for our benefit.
First of all, thistles are edible. They are an outstanding survival food. Secondly, warrior herbs, like thistles, grow where the environment has been damaged. They keep animals (and people) away while the land has a chance to heal. We need warrior energy at times in our lives, and thistles supply it. So, their third benefit is their medicinal properties, which are primarily associated with the liver—the organ that defends our blood stream against toxins and is associated with anger, aggression, and bitterness.
Blessed thistle is a cholagogue herb, which means it stimulates the production of bile. This aids in fat digestion, reduction of cholesterol, prevention of gall stones, and detoxification of the liver. This stimulation of bile may also account for the fact that it acts as an emetic in large doses, since liver detoxification can create nausea and vomiting. This is why blessed thistle is an important component of the Liver Cleanse Formula (LIV-A).
Blessed thistle also acts as a digestive remedy. The herb has been used to treat indigestion with nausea, flatulance and bloating. It also has the ability to stimulate the appetite, making it useful for anorexia. Christoper Hobbs, AHG, recommends it for painful digestion. It is also found in the formula Four, which is used to treat allergies and hayfever, which are usually linked to liver and digestive problems.
The famous herbalist Dr. Eugene Watkins said that blessed thistle is an oxygenator of tissues such as the heart, lungs, and brain. Some of its traditional uses include heart and memory problems. Modern research shows that blessed thistle also contains antimicrobial and anticancer agents.
The most prevalent use of blessed thistle, however, is as a remedy for women. Many PMS symptoms are related to a congested liver, so by decongesting the liver and improving oxygenation to the blood, symptoms such as painful menstruation and PMS-related headaches may be relieved. The master herbalist, Dr. John Christopher used blessed thistle in his female remedies. He considered it a valuable aid for resolving female problems and smoothing the transition of puberty for young women. For these reasons, blessed thistle is an ingredient in four of NSP’s formulas designed for women, C-X, NF-X, FCS II with lobelia and Female Comfort (FC with Dong Quai).
Blessed thistle is also well known for its ability to enrich breast milk. In fact, this is probably its most popular use. Especially when used in combination with red raspberry, blessed thistle increases both the quantity and the quality of breast milk and has aided many mothers in being able to breastfeed.
Again we see the paradox of the thistle. This very “masculine” plant with its prickly nature is a nurturer of women and children. Or maybe it isn’t such a paradox; it serves as an example of the spiritual ideal of the warrier as one who defends, protects, and provides for that which is under his care. In any case, blessed thistle is a prickly, but powerful healer.
Herbal Extracts by A.B. Howard
The Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard
Herbal Therapeutics by David Winston
PDR for Herbal Medicines by Medical Economics Company