Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), not to be confused with milk thistle (Silybum marianum), was once used to treat the bubonic plague. Today, people use the flowering plant’s blossoms, leaves, and stems for many things, such as increasing breast milk production and soothing indigestion.
Keep reading to learn more about the many applications of blessed thistle and how you can use it.
When a baby latches on to their mother’s breast, many nerves within the mother’s nipple become activated as a result. This sets hormones in motion throughout a mother’s system. Two of these hormones are prolactin, which boosts the mother’s milk supply, and oxytocin, which releases milk.
Not all mothers naturally produce enough breast milk. Some of those who need extra help take blessed thistle, which is thought to stimulate breast milk production.
According to a 2016 review, blessed thistle is commonly used as an herbal galactagogue. A galactagogue is a food, herb, or medication that increases the flow of breast milk, usually by increasing prolactin levels. However, the review also noted that there haven’t been enough high-quality clinical trials to really understand how well it works.
Looking for other ways to promote the flow of breast milk? Try these 11 recipes for boosting breast milk production.
Some of the other benefits of blessed thistle are anecdotal. This herb needs more study before we can be sure of effectiveness and safety.
Blessed thistle contains cnicin, a compound found in many bitter herbs. Cnicin is thought to stimulate the production of both saliva and gastric acid, which both aid digestion.
Blessed thistle also has a long-standing reputation as an expectorant. These are herbs or medications that help to loosen and thin mucus, making it easier for you to cough it up. However, there aren’t any studies evaluating its effectiveness as an expectorant.
Blessed thistle is part of the Asteraceae family of plants. A 2015 study found that plants from this family have measurable antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. This suggests that there’s some science behind the traditional use of blessed thistle as a topical treatment for minor cuts and wounds.
If you’re trying to stimulate the flow of breast milk or relieve indigestion, try brewing blessed thistle tea. Add 1 cup of boiling water to 1 to 3 teaspoons of the dried herb (which you can find on Amazon). Let the blessed thistle steep for 5 to 15 minutes. Strain out the dried herb and drink.
You can also find premade tea bags containing blessed thistle, like this one.
Blessed thistle is also available in the form of a tincture, which you can also purchase on Amazon. This is a liquid, usually with an alcohol or vinegar base, that has herbal material dissolved within it. You can add drops of tincture to water or other drinks. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the right dosage.
Blessed thistle is also available in capsule form both online and at most health food stores. Again, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding dosage.
To use blessed thistle on a cut or wound, soak a piece of gauze in blessed thistle tea (make sure it’s cooled) and place it over the affected area a few times a day.
So far, blessed thistle hasn’t been found to have many side effects. However, it can cause stomach irritation and vomiting if you consume more than 6 grams of it a day.
You should avoid blessed thistle if you:
- take antacids
- are pregnant
- have a gastrointestinal diseases or conditions, such as Crohn’s disease
- are allergic to ragweed
Keep in mind that, despite some evidence that blessed thistle acts as a galactagogue, there’s not enough information to confirm whether it’s safe for infants, children, or breastfeeding mothers. In addition, herbal products aren’t regulated by the FDA, so try to stick with reputable brands to make sure you’re getting a pure product. The Mayo Clinic has some helpful tips to guide you.
Blessed thistle has a long history as an herbal remedy for many things, including indigestion and low milk production. However, the research surrounding its use is very limited, so it’s best to take it with caution. Regardless of why you’re using it, make sure to cap your intake at 6 grams a day to avoid any side effects such as nausea and vomiting.