Blessed Thistle

Cnicus benedictus L.

Synonyms: Centaurea benedicta L.; Carduus benedictus Cam.; Carbenia benedicta Adans. Other common names: Holy thistle, St. Benedict's thistle, Our Lady's thistle, bitter thistle, spotted thistle, cursed thistle, blessed cardus, spotted cardus.

Habitat and range: The blessed thistle is a weed which has been introduced into this country from southern Europe and is found in waste places and stony, uncultivated localities from Nova Scotia to Maryland and the Southern States; also on the Pacific coast. It is cultivated in many parts of Europe.

Description: In height this annual plant of the aster family (Asteracese) scarcely exceeds 2 feet, with coarse erect stems, branched and rather woolly. The leaves are large, 3 to 6 inches long or more, oblong lance shaped, thin, more or less hairy, with margins wavy lobed and spiny. The lower leaves and those at the bottom are narrowed toward the base into winged stems, while those near the top are stemless and clasping.

The yellow flower heads, which appear from about May to August, are situated at the ends of the branches, almost hidden by the upper leaves, and are about an inch and a half in length. Immediately surrounding the yellow flower heads are scales of a leathery texture, tipped with- long, hard, branching, yellowish-red spines.

Collection, prices, and uses: The leafy flowering tops and the other leaves are gathered preferably just before or during the blossoming period and then are thoroughly and quickly dried. In the fresh state the leaves and tops have a rather disagreeable odor, which they lose on drying. They are bright green when fresh and grayish green and woolly when dry. Collectors receive about 6 to 8 cents a pound.

The taste of the blessed thistle is very bitter and salty and somewhat acrid. It, is used principally as a bitter tonic.

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