Holy Thistle

(Carduus benedictus) When a plant is called "holy" or "blessed" (Blessed Thistle is recorded for this (Ellacombe)), it means it has the power of counteracting poison, or so it was supposed; (herba benedicta, Avens, that is, is better known for this property). Langham could say "the leafe, juice, seede, in water, healeth all kindes of poyson...". Everybody knew it as a heal-all. Langham, indeed had four pages of recipes under this head, for practically every malady, including plague, for which it was regarded as a specific. Thomas Hill had a very similar list. Culpeper, too, was enthusiastic. Wesley was more restrained, but could still say, "Coldness of the Stomach. Take a spoonful of the Syrup of the Juice of Carduus Benedictus, fasting, for three or four Mornings. A warm infusion is used for bad colds or intermittent fevers". That same infusion is used in America for dyspepsia and as an appetite restorer (Henkel), which probably is the equivalent of John Wesley's advice above. But Shakespeare knew another use, for he has Margaret, in Much ado about nothing, say: "Get you some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus and lay it to your heart: it is the only thing for a qualm". It is still prescribed by herbalists as a tea for liver disorders (W A R Thomson. 1978), and it is used in Ireland for asthma, by boiling a few leaves in milk, and then drinking the milk, and it is also used for a cold (Maloney). Bartholomew Anglicus found yet another use for it. The juice, he said, "cureth the falling of the hair" (Seager).

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