Blessed thistle (generic name)

treats Bacterial infections, Viral infections, and Indigestion and flatulence
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Alternate Title

Cnicus benedictus L.


Herbs & Supplements


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.


DISCLAIMER: 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.

Bacterial infections: 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.
Grade: C

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.
Grade: C

Viral infections: 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.
Grade: C


WARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. 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 healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
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.


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.


DISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.


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.


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 professional level monograph edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration ( Ethan Basch, MD (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center); Dawn Costa, BA, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Cynthia Dacey, PharmD (Northeastern University); Paul Hammerness, MD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Sadaf Hashmi MD, MPH (Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health); Shaina Tanguay-Colucci, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Mamta Vora, PharmD (Northeastern University); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration).


DISCLAIMER: 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Schneider G, Lachner I. [Analysis and action of cnicin]. Planta Med 1987;53(3):247-251.

Vanhaelen-Fastre R. [Constitution and antibiotical properties of the essential oil of Cnicus benedictus]. Planta Med 1973;24(2):165-175.

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.

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

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