Thistle plants are known for their medicinal properties.
They’re used to treat various diseases such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, gout, kidney stones, liver problems, rheumatism, and ulcers. Thistle plants are also used to prevent hair loss, and in some parts of the world, as an aphrodisiac.
Let’s take a look at some fine specimens of the species, shall we:
The common thistle is one of the most well-known and widespread thistle plants. Growing up to 5 feet tall in fields, meadows, and along roadsides, their spiky stems and leaves have prodded many a hiker, yet despite their prickly disposition, they have been intentionally cultivated for thousands of years.
Common thistles are perennial herbs that produce large, bulbous, purple flowers, which are quite striking, but not striking enough to shake the “weed status” given to this plant by green thumbs around the globe.
Not many people know this, but the humble artichoke is actually a type of thistle plant. Artichoke has become a popular vegetable because it grows quickly and can be harvested before it reaches maturity. It is very easy to grow from seed or cuttings.
The piece of the artichoke thistle we eat is actually just the bud of this amazing plant.
Carline thistles are native to Europe and Asia, where they grow wild on dry hillsides and waste areas. The carline thistle has long, slender, hairy stalks with small, round, grayish-green leaves. It produces white or pink flowers at the end of its stem.
Distaff thistles are found throughout North America, growing in sandy soil in open woodlands, prairies, and dunes. Their stems can reach heights of more than 20 feet. They bear yellow flowers in spring.
Distaff thistles contain compounds called sesquiterpene lactones, natural anti-inflammatory agents, high concentrations of which are also found in lavender, rosemary, and chamomile.
Native to Europe and Asia, giant thistles grow up to a whopping 15 feet tall, hence the name – you don’t want to run into one of these spiky bad boys in a dark alley.
It has large leaves that grow in opposite pairs, yellow flowers, red berries, they are usually found growing near water sources such as rivers and lakes, and although they look mighty mean, they have multiple medicinal applications.
Globe thistles are native only to western North America. Globes are about 2 inches wide and grow in clusters.
Beautiful perennials that bloom in early summer, they have bright blue flowers with a darker center surrounded by a spiky frame. Their leaves are deeply notched and slightly hairy.
Alpine thistle is a perennial herb native to Europe, Asia, North America, and South America. It grows in rocky areas, such as mountains, hillsides, and meadows. It can grow up to 3 feet tall, and is commonly known as mountain sorrel, mountain spinach, and wild spinach.
Alpine thistles contain many nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and iodine. They also contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and phytosterols.
As such, much like many of its spiky cousins, the alpine thistle has numerous medical benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, it is used to treat liver problems, constipation, and fever, and is even said to be an aphrodisiac – move over oysters, am I right?
Commonly referred to as shepherd’s purse, corn thistles grow up to 8 inches tall. They are native mainly to Europe and Asia, but they also grow throughout North America.
They have white flowers and green leaves, and, in tea, can be used to treat diarrhea, constipation, and indigestion.
Cactus thistles grow up to 7 inches tall. They are found mostly in Mexico and South America, and can typically be seen growing near water sources, although they can survive in drier conditions.
Creeping thistles can grow up to 12 inches long. Found in North America, they spread (or creep) via underground rhizomes, which is where they get their name.
Creeping thistles prefer moist soil and full sun. They grow in fields, roadsides, and vacant lots, and feature small white blossoms growing in clusters near the base of the stem.
Blessed thistles are a type of plant native to Europe and Asia. They grow up to 2 feet tall, prefer dry soil, and thrive in rocky areas.
They are known for their medicinal properties and are used to treat many conditions such as liver damage, gallbladder inflammation, and digestive issues.
A plant native to North America, desert thistle grows wild throughout the Southwest. It prefers hot, dry climates and sandy soils.
This perennial herb has small yellow flowers that bloom in late spring and early summer, and is capable of growing 9 inches in height. Unlike many of its prickly family members, it is not considered a noxious weed.
Desert thistles are great at absorbing toxins from the air, so if you live in a polluted area, these plants will help filter out some of those contaminants.
Golden thistles grow up to 15 inches tall, and they’re indigenous to Europe and Asia. Notorious healers, many people use golden thistle as a natural remedy for various conditions.
It can be instrumental in treating digestive issues, liver problems, skin conditions, and has even been shown to be effective against prostate cancer – golden indeed!
Growing up to 30 inches tall, milk thistle is native to Europe and Asia. It has a grooved stem and is covered in a fuzzy cotton-like substance.
It’s used in traditional medicine to treat liver diseases such as cirrhosis and is also known to galvanize the immune system.
Native to Europe and North America, musk thistle grows well in moist soil conditions and will often reach 1.5 meters in height. It typically grows in meadows and heavily grazed pastures, but is fully capable of thriving in the open soil of disturbed areas such as building sites and roadsides.
A biennial plant, its life cycle plays out over a 2-year period, but, in warm enough climates, it can germinate in a single year. Its leaves are dark green and its blooms are the red-purple typical of many thistles.
Scotch thistles grow up to 2 feet tall, and as you may have surmised from their name, they’re the national flower of Scotland, but they go by a few other titles too, including cotton thistle, Scots thistle, and their official name, Onopordum.
Sow thistles grow up to 4 feet tall. They are natives of Eurasia and are considered one of the most popular medicinal herbs on the planet, which is why it’s cultivated on a global scale.
Some of the nutrients found in this thistle include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and iodine.
Syrian thistles are indigenous to the Middle East and can grow up to 5 feet tall. Syrians use the dried flowers of these plants to make healing beverages that are said to alleviate the symptoms of cold and flu, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
They’re also used to treat eczema, psoriasis, asthma arthritis, and much more. It’s also said that Syrians will use the leaves to make a paste that can aid in the healing of wounds, and they’ll grind the seeds into a powder that can be used to treat conjunctivitis.
Spear thistles are common in Europe and Asia but can be found across North America, Africa, and Australia as well. They can grow up to 1 meter tall and produce yellow daisy-like flowers that bloom in late spring and early summer.
They are also very easy to cultivate, as they don’t require any special care or maintenance. The root of spear thistle is edible, and some believe that eating them helps with weight loss.
Star thistles can grow up to 4 feet tall, and in their native Europe and North America, are traditionally used to treat digestive issues. There are multiple different types of star thistle, spanning purple, “black”, and white variants.
Sunflower thistles grow up to 20 inches tall. They are quite rare but can be found growing in the wild across Canada and North America. They’re commonly used to treat liver conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and jaundice.
Did you know that those dandelions in your lawn you do battle with every summer are actually technically a type of thistle? Amazing, right?
Dandelions are one of nature’s most versatile plants. They grow easily in almost every environment, thrive in poor soil, and provide food for many animals.
The leaves are rich in vitamin A, and the root system contains oxalic acid, which has been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels, prevent cancer cell growth, fight off bacteria, and even help dissolve kidney stones!
As you can see, the thistle family is large and diverse. Each plant has its own unique characteristics and uses, so next time you see one cropping up in your yard, instead of reaching straight for the herbicide, pay your respects to this proud and helpful plant.
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