Blessed thistle is known for helping with digestion, as well as with lactation in nursing women, but can it help your brain? Is it something you should have in your diet on a regular basis?
What Exactly is Blessed Thistle?
Blessed thistle (aka spotted thistle) has an official plant name, which is “Cnicus benedictus.” You might also see it sold as “holy thistle” and it also known as St. Benedict’s thistle.
The plant looks a bit like a prickly dandelion, and, in fact, it is a weed. It is native to the Mediterranean area, in areas such as France and Portugal. It can even be found in Iran.
This herb is extremely bitter, so it does not make for a good food choice (though people have used it for food). The herb has, however, been used for medicinal purposes for many hundreds if not thousands of years.
How Blessed Thistle Has Been Used Historically
Blessed thistle has a very long history as an herb. It was originally used in Ayurveda, which is the traditional medicine of India.
Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years, perhaps 5,000 or even more, and it is still in use today.
According to some historians, this makes Ayurveda the longest running medical system in the world, and it is still in use in the world today! (Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM for short, has also been around for thousands of years.)
Blessed thistle has been used in Ayurvedic healing to deal with digestive issues.
As a bitter-tasting herb, it has the ability to calm down certain types of imbalances. This is because the six different tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent (spicy), and astringent – have different effects on various Ayurvedic constitutions. The bitter taste is soothing to the Pitta and Kapha constitutions of Ayurveda, aggravating for Vata and can help with stoking digestive fire (Pitta).
Blessed Thistle in Medieval Europe
The herb found its way to Europe and was a very popular folk remedy by the 1500s. Also called St. Benedict’s thistle, it was grown a lot at monasteries, and of course, one of the major branches was the Benedictine order (following the Rule of Saint Benedict).
In 1510, a Benedictine monk named Don Bernardo Vincelli created the famous Benedictine Liqueur using this same herb and a number of other herbs (27 to be exact). Today, that recipe is secret except for three living people who know it by heart.
William Shakespeare himself, the great playwright-poet, mentioned blessed thistle (in a tincture) as a remedy in Much Ado About Nothing:
Get you some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus (blessed thistle), and lay it to your heart: it is the only thing for a qualm.
Europeans in the Middle Ages used St. Benedict’s thistle for a variety of ailments and desired results including:
- Treating the plague
- Alleviating headaches and migraines
- Improving wit and memory
- Relieving red itchy eyes
- Expelling poison
- Reducing trembling from palsy
- Healing canker sores
- Mitigating bad breath
- Stopping a nose bleed
In many ways, blessed thistle was a cure-all at a time when people did not have modern pharmaceuticals to treat diseases. It was also considered an herb of spiritual purification. In fact, the herb was considered to be a gift from God, or a blessing – thus the addition of the word “blessed” to its name.
What About Blessed Thistle for the Brain?
While medieval herbalists might have used blessed thistle to help improve memory, that is not its main use today.
It is primarily helpful in helping with digestive issues and it can stimulate appetite. Women have also used it historically for menstruation issues and lactation support (it should not be consumed by pregnant women, however).
Just because the modern usage is not about brain boosting, it doesn’t mean you can’t use this herb for that. This “holy” herb also has anti-inflammatory qualities that may help with brain function.
Should Blessed Thistle Be in Your Diet?
You can buy blessed thistle in supplement form at your local health food store or online in many holistic health shops. But does that mean you should be getting it if you want to boost your memory or make yourself smarter?
Considering the powerful effects this herb may have on digestion, it is probably not the type of herb you want to take on a daily basis. It is more something you would take temporarily to deal with a specific issue.
Without more studies done on the issue of blessed thistle and brain health, we do not recommend it as a daily supplement. Certainly, you could try it as an extra boost before an exam and then let us know how it goes!