Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus L.)
Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.
Bitter thistle, Carbenia benedicta, cardin, Cardo Santo, Carduus benedictus, Chardon Benit, Cnici benedicti herba, cnicus, holy thistle, Kardo-benedictenkraut, St. Benedict thistle, salonitenolide, spotted thistle.
Note: Blessed thistle should not be mistaken for milk thistle (Silybum marianus) or other members of the thistle family.
Blessed thistle leaves, stems, and flowers have traditionally been used in "bitter" tonic drinks and in other preparations taken by mouth to enhance appetite and digestion. Blessed thistle may also be included in the unproven anti-cancer herbal remedy Essiac®. This herb has been tested in laboratory studies for its properties against infections, cancer, and inflammation with promising results. However, high-quality trials showing benefits in humans are lacking.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Laboratory studies report that blessed thistle (and chemicals in blessed thistle such as cnicin and polyacetylene) has activity against several types of bacteria and no effects on some types. Reliable human study is lacking. Further evidence is necessary in this area before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Indigestion and flatulence (gas)
Blessed thistle is traditionally believed to stimulate stomach acid secretion and has been used as a treatment for indigestion or gas. However, there is limited scientific study in these areas. Additional research is needed before a firm conclusion can be reached.
Laboratory studies report no activity of blessed thistle against herpes viruses, influenza, or poliovirus. Effects of blessed thistle (or chemicals in blessed thistle called lignans) against HIV are not clear. Human research of blessed thistle as a treatment for viral infections is lacking.
*Key to grades:A: Strong scientific evidence for this use; B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use; D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work); F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
Abortifacient, anorexia, appetite stimulant, astringent, bleeding, blood purifier, boils, breast milk stimulant, bubonic plague, cancer, cervical dysplasia, choleretic (bile flow stimulant), colds, contraceptive (birth control), diaphoretic (sweat stimulant), diarrhea, digestion enhancement, diuretic (increasing urine), expectorant, fever reducer, gallbladder disease, inflammation, jaundice, liver disorders, malaria, memory improvement, menstrual disorders, menstrual flow stimulant, painful menstruation, rabies, salivation stimulant, skin ulcers, wound healing, yeast infections.
The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.
Adults (over 18 years old)
Tea, tinctures, and liquid extracts are available. Traditional doses include 1.5 to 3 grams of dried blessed thistle flowering tops steeped in 150 milliliters of boiling water taken three times daily or 1 to 3 teaspoons of dried blessed thistle herb in one cup of boiling water for 5 to 15 minutes taken three times daily (sometimes recommended to be used 30 minutes before meals). 1.5 to 10 milliliters of other preparations have been taken by mouth up to three times daily. May be bitter in taste.
Children (under 18 years old)
Not recommended due to lack of lack of reliable safety data.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Allergic reactions to blessed thistle including rash may occur, as well as cross-sensitivity to mugwort and echinacea. Cross-reactivity may also occur with bitter weed, blanket flower, chrysanthemum, coltsfoot, daisy, dandelion, dwarf sunflower, goldenrod, marigold, prairie sage, ragweed, and other plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family.
Side Effects and Warnings
Blessed thistle is generally considered to be safe when used by mouth in recommended doses for short periods of time, with few reported side effects. Direct contact with blessed thistle can cause skin and eye irritation.
Blessed thistle taken in high doses may cause stomach irritation and vomiting. Blessed thistle is traditionally believed to increase stomach acid secretion and may be inadvisable in patients with stomach ulcers, reflux disease (heartburn), hiatal hernia, or Barrett's esophagus.
Blessed thistle contains tannins. Long-term ingestion of plants containing tannins may cause gastrointestinal upset, liver disease, kidney toxicity, or increased risk of developing esophageal or nasal cancer. The effects in humans of blessed thistle tannins are not known.
Laboratory studies suggest that blessed thistle may increase the risk of bleeding, although effects in humans are not known. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or taking agents that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
Many tinctures contain high levels of alcohol and should be avoided when driving or operating heavy machinery.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Blessed thistle has been used traditionally to stimulate menstruation and abortion, and therefore should be avoided during pregnancy. Although blessed thistle has been used historically to stimulate breast milk flow, it is not recommended during breastfeeding due to limited safety information. Reliable research is lacking in these areas.
Many tinctures contain high levels of alcohol and should be avoided during pregnancy.
Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.
Interactions with Drugs
Traditionally, blessed thistle is believed to stimulate stomach acid secretion and it may reduce the effectiveness of drugs such as cimetidine (Tagamet®), famotidine (Pepcid®), nizatidine (Axid®), or ranitidine (Zantac®).
Based on laboratory studies, blessed thistle may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that also increase the risk of bleeding (although effects in humans are not known). Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants ("blood thinners") such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
Many tinctures contain high levels of alcohol and may cause nausea or vomiting when taken with metronidazole (Flagyl®) or disulfiram (Antabuse®).
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Based on laboratory studies, blessed thistle may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs or supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding (although effects in humans are not known). Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this may not be proven in most cases.
This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
Cobb E. Antineoplastic agent from Cnicus benedictus. Patent Brit 1973;335:181.
Eich E, Pertz H, Kaloga M, et al. (-)-Arctigenin as a lead structure for inhibitors of human immunodeficiency virus type-1 integrase. J Med Chem 1996;39(1):86-95. View Abstract
Kataria H. Phytochemical investigation of medicinal plant Cnicus wallichii and Cnicus benedictus L. Asian J Chem 1995;7:227-228.
May G, Willuhn G. [Antiviral effect of aqueous plant extracts in tissue culture]. Arzneimittelforschung 1978;28(1):1-7. View Abstract
Novitch M, Schweiker R. Orally administered menstrual drug products for over-the-counter human use. Federal Register 1982;47:55076-55101.
Perez C, Anesini C. In vitro antibacterial activity of Argentine folk medicinal plants against Salmonella typhi. J Ethnopharmacol 1994;44(1):41-46. View Abstract
Perez C, Anesini C. Inhibition of Pseudomonas aeruginosa by Argentinean medicinal plants. Fitoterapia 1994;65(2):169-172.
Ryu SY, Ahn JW, Kang YH, et al. Antiproliferative effect of arctigenin and arctiin. Arch Pharm Res 1995;18(6):462-463.
Schimmer O, Kruger A, Paulini H, et al. An evaluation of 55 commercial plant extracts in the Ames mutagenicity test. Pharmazie 1994;49(6):448-451. View Abstract
Schneider G, Lachner I. [Analysis and action of cnicin]. Planta Med 1987;53(3):247-251. View Abstract
Vanhaelen-Fastre R. [Constitution and antibiotical properties of the essential oil of Cnicus benedictus]. Planta Med 1973;24(2):165-175. View Abstract
Vanhaelen-Fastre R. [Polyacetylen compounds from Cnicus benedictus]. Planta Medica 1974;25:47-59.
Yang L, Lin S, Yang T, et al. Synthesis of anti-HIV activity of dibenzylbutyrolactone lignans. Bioorg Med Chem Lett 1996;6(8):941-944.
Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.
March 22, 2017