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Cnicus

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Cnicus benedictus (St. Benedict's thistle, blessed thistle, holy thistle or spotted thistle), is a thistle-like plant in the family Asteraceae, native to the Mediterranean region, from Portugal north to southern France and east to Iran. It is known in other parts of the world, including parts of North America, as an introduced species and often a noxious weed. It is the sole species in the monotypic genus Cnicus.

Growth

It is an annual plant growing to 60 cm tall, with leathery, hairy leaves up to 30 cm long and 8 cm broad, with small spines on the margins. The flowers are yellow, produced in a dense flowerhead (capitulum) 3-4 cm diameter, surrounded by numerous spiny basal bracts.

The related genus Notobasis is included in Cnicus by some botanists; it differs in slender, much spinier leaves, and purple flowers.

Medicinal uses

It has sometimes been used as a galactogogue to promote lactation. The crude extracts contain about 0.2% cnicin. It is recommended for use by public health nurses in Ontario, Canada, as well as by the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation[1] along with fenugreek to increase lactation in nursing mothers. It is also a component in some bitters formulas.

Edibility

These thistles are not considered edible, unlike Cirsium, Arctium and Onopordum species; the leaves are considered unpalatable if not bitter.

19th century illustration

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