Neighbouring countries have given me similar names, all of course in their own languages. In the Netherlands they call me ‘Mariadistel’, in France ‘Chardon-Marie’ or ‘Lait de Notre-Dame’, and in Germany ‘Mariendistel’.
I’m called a thistle these days, rather than a weed, because I’m so prickly.
My beautiful purple flowers are well protected by large, sharp thorns. They’re not there for nothing: they stop me from being eaten by insects.
The 17th-century British herbalist and pharmacist Nicholas Culpeper was also full of praise for me. According to him I could prevent blockage in the liver and spleen, and could even protect against and cure the deadly plague – no easy matter!
Still, as far as the liver is concerned Culpeper was on the right tracks. My seeds contain several remarkable substances, together known as ‘silymarine’, which do indeed have liver-protecting qualities and which stimulate the growth of new liver cells.
So what do they think is so wonderful about me? Well, I am said to have a detoxifying and purifying effect on the liver, so they think that a bit of milk thistle detox will bring that important organ back into tip-top condition in no time.
These are supposed to help with stomach ache, heartburn, bloating and nausea.
So do they work? Well, the liver is perfectly able to clean up waste products; after all, that’s what it’s there for. Detoxification is a natural process by which the liver processes the materials taken into the body and converts any dangerous or even poisonous substances into other substances that can be safely excreted through the bile ducts and intestine.
So a milk thistle diet is mostly just expensive: a little bit of thistle seed costs rather a lot. Not bad, is it, for a weed!
Legend has it that enemy Northmen had planned to surprise the Scottish army with its pants down, by attacking at night. To make as little noise as possible, the bearded ruffians took off their shoes and went barefoot.
The Scottish troops engaged the Northmen, vanquished them, and adopted the purple thistle, which had saved the day, as their national symbol. Is the story true? Well, maybe. It’s a good story, anyway.
So now I appear on all sorts of Scottish emblems and coins, and since 1687 there’s even been an ‘Order of the Thistle’ – the highest order of chivalry in the land – with admission awarded to Scots who have made a particularly outstanding contribution to national life.
Whether the ‘Scottish thistle’ is actually a milk thistle, or some other relative, is still being argued by the experts; some suspect that it is either cotton thistle (Onopordum acanthium) or musk thistle (Carduus nutans), but others are certain that it is spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare).
Hi, my name is Milk thistle. Do you want to know where my name comes from?
2021, 45 X 30 CM