Blessed thistle is a spiky plant with many potential health benefits, including increasing milk supply for breastfeeding.
This fascinating herb was once used to treat the bubonic plague. One legend has it that this particular thistle became known as 'blessed' after it cured a whole army of the plague.
It still has an important place in herbal medicine, even if it's no longer used in such a dramatic way.
Here is more about blessed thistle and its major health benefits.
What is Blessed Thistle?
Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is native to the Mediterranean region but now grows in many other areas of the world.
Like other thistles, blessed thistle grows well even in damaged or nutrient-deficient soils and is difficult to get rid of once established. It also has the typical spiny stem and spiky leaves of the thistle family.
However, blessed thistle should not be confused with milk thistle. The two are closely related but have different properties and uses.
The leaves, stems, and flowers of blessed thistle are all used in herbal medicine. Perhaps used most often during breastfeeding to increase milk supply, blessed thistle also has other benefits for health.
Top Benefits of Blessed Thistle
Blessed Thistle for Breastfeeding
Blessed thistle is commonly used in herbal medicine as a galactagogue. (1) A galactagogue can be any food, drink, or herb that's used to increase breast milk supply.
Blessed thistle is believed to be beneficial for breastfeeding because it may increase the production of the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin is the hormone that boosts breastmilk supply, and oxytocin releases the milk.
Mothers who aren't naturally producing enough milk can benefit from the effect blessed thistle has on stimulating lactation.
There are some indications that blessed thistle works more effectively for breastfeeding when combined with other galactagogue herbs like fennel. (2)
To naturally increase breastmilk supply while nursing, try taking blessed thistle in one of these herbal capsule formulas.
Blessed thistle contains bitter compounds known as glycosides. These bitter glycosides stimulate the production of bile, saliva, and gastric juices in the stomach.
This is why blessed thistle can be helpful for good digestion. The stimulation of bile, saliva, etc. helps the body to break down fats and other foods more effectively.
Blessed thistle also contains a compound called cnicin that can increase the secretion of digestive enzymes, further benefiting digestive health. (3)
Besides being used for indigestion, blessed thistle can also help to stimulate appetite when it has been lost due to illness or certain treatments.
Liver Health and Detoxification
Herbs containing bitter compounds usually support liver health along with digestion.
Blessed thistle is no exception.
By stimulating the production of bile, blessed thistle supports liver health and can help to detoxify the body. The liver, kidneys, and digestive system all play a large role in eliminating waste and toxins from the body.
It also has a mild diuretic effect, which can further help to cleanse the body.
Immune System and Infections
Blessed thistle belongs to the Asteraceae family. Studies have documented the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of plants belonging to this family. (4)
The active compound in blessed thistle called cnicin has been shown to have a unique action against bacteria, binding to the bacteria so that it can't replicate itself and dies. (5)
This gives it the potential to help ward off infections by boosting the immune system as well as treating existing infections.
Traditionally, blessed thistle has been used to treat skin problems including cuts, ulcers, and other types of damaged skin.
This is likely because of its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.
The research into whether blessed thistle could be beneficial against certain forms of cancer is still ongoing.
Blessed thistle contains active compounds known as sesquiterpene lactones, which have been studied because of their potential to shrink or inhibit tumors and target cancer cells. (6)
Studies have so far only been conducted in the lab, but there are indications that these specific compounds could also help with cardiovascular disease and be used as antimalarials. (6)
Other Benefits of Blessed Thistle
Along with its traditional use during breastfeeding, blessed thistle can also help other female health issues.
It can help to correct hormone imbalances and is also sometimes used as a tonic to help with painful menstruation. (7)
The bitter compounds in blessed thistle are where many of its benefits come from.
Along with aiding digestive and liver health, they can also support the respiratory system. Blessed thistle has been used by herbalists as an expectorant to help clear the lungs.
It is a good source of potassium and sodium as well as other nutrients and has been used for various ailments like arthritis, fevers, and allergies.
Side Effects and Precautions
Blessed thistle is a safe herb to use with generally few side effects. The most common side effects are upset stomach and vomiting if consumed in large amounts.
People who are allergic to other members of the Asteraceae family (including daises and ragweed) will want to use blessed thistle with caution.
Blessed thistle can act as a uterine stimulant and should not be used during pregnancy.
Although it does have anti-inflammatory properties, blessed thistle may make symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases worse or cause a rebound.
Using Blessed Thistle
Blessed thistle can be used in several different preparations.
For increasing breastmilk supply while nursing, it can be taken in capsule form after pregnancy. It may be most effective as part of an herbal preparation with other galactagogues, like these Milk Machine capsules.
Another common way to use blessed thistle during breastfeeding or for other reasons is as a tea.
Simple Blessed Thistle Tea:
- Use 1-3 teaspoons of the dried herb per cup of boiling water.
- Pour the boiling water over the herb and let it steep for at least 10-15 minutes.
- Strain out the herb and use a natural sweetener if desired.
- For breastfeeding, blessed thistle can also be combined with other herbs like nettle, alfalfa, or fenugreek in a tea.
You can also find pre-made teabags that have blessed thistle in them, either alone or as part of an herbal blend.
Blessed thistle is also sold in tincture form. The correct dosage should be listed on the bottle.
Finally, to use for skin infections or wounds, you can simply soak a cloth or a strip of gauze in cooled thistle tea and apply to the affected area.
Try This Herb for Yourself
Blessed thistle has many health benefits that were long ago discovered by herbalists.
Whether or not it can actually cure the bubonic plague, this prickly herb is still used for a wide range of health issues.
Take advantage of its beneficial properties for breastmilk supply by taking it in capsules or as a tea while nursing. Or use it to stimulate and aid digestion and healthy detoxification.
However you use it, blessed thistle has some serious benefits for strengthening and helping our bodies.