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Blessed Thistle

Blessed Thistle
Blessed Thistle / Cardo Santo / Holy Thistle
Scientific name:Cnicus benedictus
Other names: St. Benedicts Thistle, Cardin, Holy Thistle, Spotted Thistle, Blessed Thistle, Carbenia benedicta (L.) Arcang., Carduus Benedictus, Cnicus; German: Benediktendistel; French: Chardon bénit; Spanish: Cardo santo; Italian: Cardo beneditto.
Habitat: Blessed thistle is native to Blessed the Mediterranean region.


The main constituent is the amaroid cnicin, which is antimicrobial, cytotoxic and antitumoural. The amaroids stimulate the secretion of saliva and gastric juices. Blessed thistle also contains polyenes, terpenoids (including sesquiterpene lactones), mucilage, lignans, steroids, tannins, oils, lithospermic acid, nicotinic acid and nicotinamide complex and resin.


Febrifuge, anti-haemorrhage, antibiotic, bacteriostatic, bitter, splenic tonic, expectorant, galactagogue, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, carminative, anti-flatulent, anti-diarrhoeal. Used externally as an antiseptic. In animal tests an anti-edemic effect was demonstrated.

Medicinal Parts

The dried leaves and upper stems, including the inflorescence, and the flowering parts of the plant.


Blessed thistle’s uses include dyspepsia (indigestion), loss of appetite (appetite stimulant), digestive aid, gastro-enteritis, liver and gall-bladder disorders. To increase a mother’s milk after pregnancy, migraine, painful menstruation, sluggish circulation, gastro-intestinal issues and cholestasia.

    Approved by Commission E for the following:

  • Dyspeptic complaints
  • Loss of appetite

Food use:Blessed thistle is listed by the Council of Europe as a natural source of food flavouring and can be used in small quantities in food.

Science: In vitro and animal studies

  • Antibacterial activity has been reported for an aqueous extract of the herb, for cnicin, and for the volatile oil.
  • Cnicin has exhibited in vivo anti-inflammatory activity.
  • Antitumour activity has been documented in mice against sarcoma 180 for the whole herb, and against lymphoid leukaemia for cnicin; cnicin has also been reported to exhibit in vitro activity against KB cells.

An a-methylene-g-lactone moiety is thought to be necessary for the antibacterial and antitumour activities of cnicin.

Preparation and Dosage

Tea: Dried flowerheads 1 teaspoon in each cup boiling water; infuse 15 minutes. Dose: 1 cup.
Liquid extract: 1-3ml (15-45 drops).
Poultice: Flowerheads.
Diet: Flowerheads cooked as artichokes.
Daily Dosage: 4 to 6 gm. The dosage for the aromatic bitter is 1 cup 1/2 hour before meals. One cup of tea is taken 3 times a day.

It is often used in combination, with Agrimony (equal parts) for anorexia nervosa. It is also used externally, as a cleaning wash for discharging ulcers.


Large doses are emetic. Avoid in pregnancy or hyperacidity.

Herbal Medicines Third edition pub. 2007 by Joanne Barnes, Linda A Anderson, J David Phillipson
PDR for Herbal Medicine pub. 2000 by Joerg Gruenwald, PhD etal
Vanhaelen-Fastré R. Antibiotic and cytotoxic activities of cnicin isolated from Cnicus benedictus. J Pharm Belg 1972; 27: 683–688

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