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What is Blessed Thistle?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Blessed thistle is a small, annual herb native to the Mediterranean and naturalized in North America, where it is often regarded as a noxious weed. The herb is a member of the family Asteraceae, which contains the second largest number of flowering plants, and is the only species in the genus Cnicus. Other names for the plant include holy thistle, St. Benedict's thistle and spotted thistle. Blessed thistle should not be confused with milk thistle. Despite their similar names, they are two completely different plants.

In appearance, blessed thistle is similar to other types of thistle, but can still be identified by its own unique features. The characteristic hairy stems and spiny-edged leaves are present, but the herb also produces bright yellow flowers surrounded by spiny bracts, or specialized leaves meant to attract pollinators. The plant's leaves can reach up to 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) in length and 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter. The entire blessed thistle plant can reach up to 24 inches (61 centimeters) in height.

Blessed thistle was used extensively for medicinal purposes during the medieval period in Europe, where it was considered a cure for just about every ailment. Today, many of the herb's traditional uses are still practiced by herbalists and natural health practitioners. It is one of the oldest folk remedies for treating amenorrhea, or the absence of the menstrual cycle, and is often used in commercial herbal preparations formulated for women. The plant is also believed to stimulate bile production in the liver, and is used to treat liver disorders of all types. Other modern medicinal uses of blessed thistle include regulating the menstrual cycle, improving appetite, lowering fevers and treating indigestion.

The blessed thistle plant is not considered edible, unlike many other types of thistle, as it has an extremely bitter taste. It may be taken internally, however, in the form of capsules or as an extract. The herb may also be made into a tea, although other aromatic herbs should be added to reduce the bitter flavor. The recommended dosage for use as a home herbal remedy is two 360-milligram capsules up to three times per day, or 10 to 20 drops of liquid extract dissolved in water three times per day. Tea is made by steeping 2 teaspoons (9.86 milliliters) of the dried herb in 8 ounces (236 milliliters) of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Although blessed thistle is generally safe for consumption when taken as directed, large doses can cause upset stomach and vomiting. This is more common when taking tea made from the herb, as it is harder to regulate the amount of plant material consumed. For the best results, no more than two cups of tea should be taken per day. Individuals with stomach ulcers should avoid taking the herb in any form, as it can cause gastric irritation that worsens the condition.

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Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Aug 30, 2014

I'm surprised to read that blessed thistle can cause upset stomach because it actually helps settle my stomach. I use it when I have a mild stomach upset. I also take it when my period is late. It's awful for it to be late because it causes so many PMS symptoms. After I take my blessed thistle, my period arrives soon and I think the herb helps with some menstruation symptoms too. I seem to have less cramping and bloating when I use it.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 29, 2014

@discographer-- Yes, I take a blessed thistle supplement for breast milk. It does work. My breast milk has increased since starting this supplement. My friend had a baby last year and she was the one who recommended it to me. It had worked for her as well. So I definitely recommend it to you. Just make sure to buy it from a good brand and follow the suggested dose.

If you don't want to use blessed thistle, fenugreek is another herb that helps increase breast milk. Whichever you decide to go with, you might want to ask your doctor about it just in case. I've personally not had any problems with blessed thistle.

By discographer — On Aug 29, 2014

Have any breastfeeding mothers used blessed thistle to increase breast milk? Does it work?

I'm trying to increase my milk and I read somewhere that blessed thistle may help. I had never heard of this herb before though, so I'm not sure if I should try it.

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