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Herb Reference Guide

Blessed Thistle


Not to be confused with Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). Blessed thistle is native to the Mediterranean, a member of the Aster family (asteraceae) that was grown in the gardens of monks and used to make bitter tonics and liqueurs and was documented in the literature as plant with multiple health imparting properties. It is mentioned in virtually all the writings issued during times of epidemic infectious diseases, including Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. No doubt you are wondering how it came to be called “blessed”? During the reign of the medieval king Charlemagne his troops were infected with the plague. An angel came to Charlemagne in his sleep and told him that if he were to shoot an arrow in the air, the arrow would land on the plant that would cure his men. The arrow fell on a big patch of Cnicus benedictus, and the emperor fed it to his troops. Their lives were saved, and the plant was dubbed the Blessed Thistle.


The use of bitter plants to tonify digestion is one of the primary tools in the herbalist’s repertoire. Proper digestion is the foundation of health. Blessed thistle does contain bitter principles called sesquiterpenes which also impart the bitter taste to the wormwood’s (Artemisia) and to Ginkgo biloba. Bitters stimulate the secretion of digestive juices in the stomach and support the breakdown of fats, supporting a healthy appetite and assisting in the assimilation of nutrients. The tea has been used historically by midwives and naturopaths to support healthy breast milk production.

Uses of Blessed Thistle


This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.

Active Constituents

Tannins, bitter principles (sesquiterpene lactones), Cnicin.

Parts Used

  • Herb

Important precautions

Not for use during pregnancy. If you have a medical condition or take pharmaceutical drugs please consult your doctor prior to use.

Additional Resources

Schneider, G. and Lachner, I. [Analysis and action of cnicin]. Planta Med 1987;53(3):247-251
Vanhaelen-Fastre, R. [Constitution and properties of the essential oil of Cnicus benedictus (author’s transl)]. Planta Med 1973;24(2):165-175.