During the Middle Ages the Emperor Charlemagne—Carl the Great to the German tribes—was losing soldiers to a dreadful plague. Folklore has it that an angel gave the ruler this herb, which was named in his honor, to stem the tide of this deadly epidemic. A natural hygrometer of sorts, carline thistle’s flower is sensitive to the level of moisture in the environment. As such, it closes whenever the humidity rises above a certain point, making it useful as a primitive weather forecasting device. A closed flower was taken as an indicator that rain was approaching. Malodorous when freshly plucked from the ground, the root develops a pleasant aroma when dried. In days long past, it was in high demand as an aphrodisiac. People in certain cultures attached the floral head to the front of the house to bring good luck.
What does it do?
Easy to identify, carline thistle provided a quick remedy for colds, its root also serving as an effective diuretic when the passage of urine was sluggish. Carline thistle brings relief to various skin conditions, such as acne and eczema, when applied externally. While young and still in the bud stage, the flower heads can be cooked and eaten like globe artichokes. Being such an accessible forage food, carline thistle was often referred to as hunter’s bread.
About the herb
Native to the alpine regions of central and southern Europe, carline thistle is a perennial flowering plant that blooms between July and September. Because its flower head rests upon a basal leaf rosette, it gives the appearance of being stemless. Having both male and female organs, the flower is self-pollinating, with bees and butterflies adding their skills to the spread of its seed.
When stomach discomfort rises, a cup of carline thistle herb tea can offer you a non-traditional path toward attaining relief. To a cup of boiled water add 6 teaspoons of the plant’s rootstock. Allow the brew to steep for 15 minutes before straining. Since the mint family enjoys a reputation for breaking up digestive logjams, add a few fresh leaves of peppermint or spearmint to the tea to enhance its curative potential while adding zip to the flavor. This herbal concoction is also useful as an antiseptic gargle to soothe sore throats. Caution: do not use carline thistle during pregnancy.