The blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is a flowering plant that belongs to the Asteraceae / Compositae family. It comes from the Mediterranean region, although today it is distributed in regions of the United States, Australia and South America.
The plant is characterized by its particular hairy leaves, which resemble dandelions. It also has a branched stem and fuzzy yellow flowers that are often used for medicinal purposes. It should not be confused with milk thistle (Silybum marianum) which is often used as an adjunct in liver disorders. So, what is it for? We will detail it in the following space.
Benefits and Uses of Blessed thistle
A 2016 review details that blessed thistle contains sesquiterpenic lactone glycosides, triterpenoids, lignans, flavonoids, tannins, essential oils, trace elements, and other substances with pharmacological potential. Due to this, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, healing and digestive properties are attributed to it.
Among other things, it has an active compound called cnicin, which in addition to giving it its bitter taste, acts as an antibiotic, hypoglycemic, diuretic cholagogue and antitumor. However, there are not enough clinical studies to determine the effectiveness of this plant against many of the diseases in which it is used. Therefore, it should be used with caution.
In natural medicine, blessed thistle is often suggested as a galactagogue, that is, a breast milk stimulant. According to popular literature, the plant stimulates the production of prolactin or oxytocin, key hormones for lactation. Still, there are no medical studies that prove this mechanism.
A review shared in The Ochsner Journal talks about the history of using blessed thistle as a possible galactagogue. However, he concludes that more clinical trials are needed to determine if it really works.
Due to its content of cinchine, this plant could be an aid against digestive difficulties. As explained by a study shared in the Journal of the Serbian Chemical Society, this substance stimulates the production of saliva and gastric acid. Therefore, its consumption could contribute to the digestive process and the prevention of stomach ailments.
Tannins, like the volatile essential oils of the plant, appear to act as expectorants. For this reason, the blessed thistle is used as an ally to dilute excess phlegm. Regarding this, there is no scientific data. However, it is believed that it can be an adjunct against respiratory infections.
4. Bacterial infections
The antimicrobial properties of blessed thistle are used for the prevention and treatment of bacterial infections. The research suggests that can inhibit the growth of common bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus.
Likewise, a study shared in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry shows that the cnicin contained in the plant slows down bacterial proliferation, since it blocks the enzymes that allow their replication.
Other possible uses
By tradition, blessed thistle has other applications in alternative medicine. However, for now there is no concrete evidence on these effects:
- Increased flow of urine.
Risks and side effects of blessed thistle
To date there is not enough information about the possible side effects of blessed thistle. It is considered safe when used in the form of tea.
Still, consuming more than 6 grams a day can led to stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. The same occurs with its presentations in supplements and tinctures.
Due to its composition, it is not recommended in the following cases:
- Patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
- Pregnant women.
- Patients who are taking diuretic or antacid medications.
- History of allergy to ragweed or related plants.
There is no specific guideline for the correct use of blessed thistle. Supplements often come in doses ranging from 300 to 450 milligrams. Do not exceed doses of more than 5 grams, since it can be irritating to the stomach.
In general, tea is made with a teaspoon or two of the dried herb for every cup of hot water. Other presentations are the tincture, made with an alcohol or vinegar base, and the capsules.
What should you keep in mind if you are going to try blessed thistle?
The properties of the blessed thistle have not yet been studied in detail. For this reason, plant-derived remedies are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You have to be careful when purchasing these remedies on the market.
Similarly, if you have underlying diseases or are under medical treatment, it is better to consult a specialist. It should not be ignored that plant compounds can interact with drugs or cause certain complications.