042. Centaurea benedicta. Blessed, or holy thistle.
Synonyma. Carduus benedictus. Pharm. Land. & Edinb. Gerard Emac. p. 1171. J. Bauh. iii. 77. Park. Parad. p. 530. Raii Hist. 1303. Dodon Pempt. 725. Camer. Epit. 562.
Cnicus sylvestris hirsutior sive Carduus benedictus. Bauh. Pin. 378.
Class Syngenesia. Ord. Polygamia frustranea. L. Gen. Plant. 984.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Recept. setosum. Pappus simplex. Cor. radii infundibuliformes, longiores, irregulares.
Spec. Char. C. calycibus duplicato-spinosis lanatis involucratis, foliis semidecurrentibus denticulato-spinosis.
The root is annual, cylindrical, whitish, branched, and furnished with several slender fibres: the stalk is erect, roundish, channelled, rough, from one to two feet high, and often branched towards the top: the leaves are long, elliptical, rough, runcinated, or variously serrated, and barbed with sharp points; above of a bright green colour, underneath whitish, and reticulated: the upper leaves are sessile, and on one side extend along the stalk, but the lower leaves stand upon footstalks: the flowers are enclosed by an involucrum of ten leaves, of these the five external ones are the largest: the calyx is oval, imbricated, smooth, woolly, and consists of several squamous coverings, terminated by rigid, pinnated, spinous points: the flowers are compound, or composed of several yellow florets; those at the circumference want the parts necessary to fructification, but those at the centre are hermaphrodite, tubular, unequally divided at the limb, and dentated at their upper extremities: the filaments are five, tapering, white, downy, and inserted in the base of the corolla: the antherae are cylindrical, tubulous, brownish, striated, and somewhat longer than the corolla: the style is filiform, and of the same length as the stamina: the stigma is yellow and cloven: the seeds are oblong, brown, striated, bent, and crowned with a hairy wing or feather, similar to that of the receptacle.
It is a native of Spain and the Levant, and flowers in June and September. The first account of the cultivation of this plant in England is given by Gerard, in 1597, and it is now usually cultivated with other exotic medicinal simples. It has an intensely bitter taste, accompanied with an unpleasant smell, which it loses upon being well dried. "Cold water, poured on the dry leaves, extracts in an hour or two a light grateful bitterness: by standing long upon the plant the liquor becomes disagreeable. Rectified spirit in a short time extracts the lighter bitter of the Carduus, but does not take up the nauseous so easily as water." [Lewis Mat. Med. p. 195.] The watery extract, by keeping, produces a salt upon its surface, which resembles nitre. [Sal commune continere albi. Hist. de l'Acad. des Sc. de Berlin, 1747, p. 79.]
This plant obtained the appellation of Benedictus, from its being supposed to possess extraordinary medicinal virtues; for exclusive of those qualities which are usually attributed to bitters, it was thought to be a very powerful alexipharmic, and capable of curing the plague, and other fevers of the most malignant kind; [Matthiol. in Dioscor. p. 597.] but its good effects in this way have now as little credit as those of its external use, by which cancers and carious bones are said to have been healed. [J. Bauh. hist. tom. 3. p. 79. Arnold de Villa Nova pract. c. 44..] Bergius reports, that it is antacida, corroborans, stomachica, sudorifera, diuretica, eccoprotica; and that it is useful in Anorexia, Cachexia, Cephalalgia sympatica, Arthritis, Febres intermittentes. We might however, with equal propriety, attribute these virtues to many other simple bitters, from which the Carduus does not seem to be peculiarly different. In loss of appetite, where the stomach was injured by irregularities, the good effects of the Carduus have been frequently experienced. [Duncan Edinb. New Dispens.] Formerly it was a common practice to assist the operation of emetics, by drinking an infusion of the Carduus; but the flowers of chamomile have since been substituted for this purpose, and probably may be advantageously done for several others in which the Carduus is recommended. The seeds have also been employed in emulsion with the same intention as the leaves.