Blessed Thistle Herb and Flowers

Scientific Names of Blessed Thistle:    

Cnicus benedictus L.


Aqueous extract of whole, dried herb and flowers.

Traditional Usage:    

– Acne
– Anorexia/Appetite Loss
– Anti-inflammatory
– Antioxidant
– Cellular Regeneration
– Cleansing
– Detoxifying
– Digestive Disorders
– Gastrointestinal Disorders
– Headaches
– Hormone Imbalances
– Skin Disorders


Blessed Thistle, Cnicus benedictus L. [Fam. Asteraceae], is a low annual plant, up to 40cm, with thistle-like appearance. Through its bitter properties, blessed thistle increases the flow of gastric juices relieving dyspepsia, indigestion and headaches associated with liver congestion. British and German Pharmacopoeias recognize that ‘bitters’, including blessed thistle, stimulate bile flow and cleanse the liver. In Europe, blessed thistle, as a “bitter vegetable drug” is considered to be a medicinal agent used to stimulate appetite, aid digestion and promote health. Studies confirm that bitters increase gastric juice and bile acid secretions by increasing the flow of saliva through stimulation of specific receptors on the mucous membrane lining of the mouth. Traditionally in most countries, including England, Germany, Russia, China, India and Africa, ‘bitters’ are used to strengthen and tonify the body. Certain bitter flavonoids found in the leaves, stems and barks of many plants, particularly the oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), have indeed been shown to strengthen the walls of blood vessels and capillaries thereby improving overall blood circulation. OPCs have also been shown to bind to collagen and prevent its degradation by enzymes and free radicals and aid in the repair of damaged collagen and elastin. Blessed thistle extracts also have anti-bacterial activity. Research on blessed thistle herb has demonstrated antibiotic properties for: 1) cnicin, 2) the essential oil and 3) the polyacetylenes contained in the herb. The essential oil has bacteriostatic action against Staphylococcus aureus, S. faecalis, but not E. Coli. Research on blessed thistle has demonstrated that cnicin has considerable activity for stimulating cellular regeneration, detoxification and cleansing. The lignans arctiin and arctigenin, also found in burdock seed (Arctium lappa L.), are also noted for this activity and are platelet activating factor (PAF) antagonists and anti-HIV as well. Cnicin also has antinflammatory activity.

Active Ingredients:    

Blessed thistle herb and flowers contain: Bitter substances of the sesquiterpene lactone type, probably occurring in glycosidic form; the principal active ingredient (0.2-0.7%) of the not-too-old dried plant material is a bitter tasting compound called cnicin, a sesquiterpene lactone or germacranolide isolated all the way back in 1837. The seed contains lignan lactones, such as trachelogenin, that also contribute to the bitterness of the drug. Lignans are phytoestrogen precursors for the key mammalian lignans: enterolactone and enterodiol that are present in humans and animals. The plant also contains: up to 0.3% essential oil which includes n-paraffin (C-9  – C-13), aromatic aldehydes (cinnamaldehyde, benzaldehyde, cuminaldehyde); phenylpropanes; benzoic acid); monoterpenes (citronellol, fenchone, p-cymene, citral, and others); and flavonoids.

Suggested Amount:    

Blessed thistle is generally taken as an herbal tea three to five times per day. As an aromatic bitter, a cup of the unsweetened tea is drunk half-an-hour before meals. German authorities recommend using 1.5-2 g of the finely chopped drug per cup of tea (1 teaspoon of cut blessed thistle weighs approximately 1 gram). It is recommended that boiling water be poured over the finely chopped herb, or alternatively that cold water is added to the herb material and brought to the boil and after 5-10 minutes strained.

Drug Interactions:    

None known.


Persons who are allergic to daisy family plants [Fam. Asteraceae] may experience allergy symptoms to blessed thistle.

Side Effects:    

Allergic reactions are possible in susceptible persons.


Bradley PR (ed). 1992. Holy thistle. In British Herbal Compendium. Volume 1. A Handbook of Scientific Information on Widely Used Plant Drugs. British Herbal Medicine Association, Bournemouth, Dorset, pp. 126-127.

Rodriguez E, Towers GHN, and Mitchell JC. 1976. Biological activities of sesquiterpene lactones. Phytochemistry 15: 1573-1580.

Schneider G, and Lachner I. 1987. A contribution to analytics and pharmacology of cnicin. Planta Med 53: 247-251.

Vanhaelen-Fastre R, and Vanhaelen M. 1976. Antibiotic and cytotoxic activity of cnicin and of its hydrolysis products.  Chemical structure – biological activity relationship. Planta Med 29 (2): 179-189.

Wichtl M (ed). 1994. Cnici benedicti herba – Holy Thistle (English translation by Norman Grainger Bisset). In Herbal Drugs and Phyto-pharmaceuticals. CRC Press, Stuttgart, pp. 153-154.