A Bit of Commentary for Blessed Thistle

With the new book almost completed, Thomas will be posting a few bits here and there from various parts of the book…stay tuned!

Blessed Thistle is a member of the Asteraceae family in the Centaurea genus. The Centaurea genus is large with about 500 species worldwide with many noxious or invasive weeds.1 This annual plant is native to Europe but has naturalized in North America. Typical of many thistles, Blessed Thistle is well-armed, but the spines are mostly fairly soft and it can be harvested without significant problem, especially when compared to a plant like Milk Thistle, which requires gloves or mechanical harvesting to avoid self-imposed acupuncture.

This medicinal has been written about for over 2000 years. Dioscorides mentions it and he also offers the name used by the Egyptians, which suggests a much longer period of use. However, there is some question as to proper identity, owing to the fact that thistles are easily misidentified. However, based on Dioscorides’ description, it seems quite likely that authors have mostly been discussing the same plant. It should be noted that this is not an uncommon problem and also exists in Chinese medicine, where there are often questions regarding the specific plant about which the authors were describing, even in the famous Shén Nóng Běn Cǎo Jīng, where there is much research and discussion about quite a few of the plants in that book.

Gerard (1597) tells us that this medicinal, “is bitter, so it is also hot and dry in the second degree” as well as being “cleansing and opening.” The connection here between bitter and hot and dry is interesting and curious since we mostly consider bitter to be draining (Gerard seems to agree with that by stating it is “cleansing and opening”) but most bitter medicinals, particularly those that are primarily bitter, are considered cooling according to Chinese medicine. However, the entirety of the monograph must be taken into account when considering the qi of the medicinal. Gerard writes that Blessed Thistle treats; deafness, giddiness of the head, expels worms, it is very good against fever, liver inflammation, pestilence, plague sores, poisonous bites, etc. As one can see, most of this is most likely to be associated with heat, not cold, and a medicinal that treated these ailments in Chinese medicine would almost definitely be considered cooling.

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