Thursday 29 March 2018

How Blessed Thistle Supports The Immune System

Blessed thistle is the name of a strange and beautiful looking wild plant native to the Mediterranean area of Europe, but also found in parts of the United States and Europe. The prickly flower has a bright, flowering top (varieties range from yellow to purple) and equally prickly stems and leaves.

The scientific name for the plant is Cnicus benedictus, and its common names - including blessed thistle, holy thistle, and St. Benedict’s Thistle - can be looked at as compliments. Or, in other words, after people experience the potential health benefits of this plant, they begin bestowing nicknames such as “blessed” or “holy” upon the plant.

People have used the tops, leaves, and stems of blessed thistle since the Middle Ages to make medicine. At the time, one of blessed thistle’s primary functions was as a treatment for the bubonic plague. It was also given as a tonic to monks.

Still, even today, blessed thistle is used in natural and alternative medicine. There are many ways to prepare blessed thistle (which we’ll discuss later), but it is used “for loss of appetite and indigestion; and to treat colds, cough, fever, bacterial infections, and diarrhea. It is also used as a diuretic for increasing urine output, and for promoting the flow of breast milk in new mothers.”

What lends blessed thistle all of these potential health benefits? In a word: tannins.

Blessed Thistle and Tannins

Blessed thistle contains tannins. If you’ve heard the word “tannins” before, it’s likely been in the context of wine. Put simply, if you’ve ever had wine that left your mouth or tongue feeling dry, that was likely because of the tannins. The dryer the sensation, the higher the tannins.

Tannins are polyphenolic compounds present in many plants that bind to proteins. They are full of antioxidants and help protect the body from cellular oxidative damage. In other words, they are a crucial part of supporting your body’s natural defense system. There is even some evidence that tannins may have anti-carcinogenic properties.

How to Use Blessed Thistle

There are a number of ways to use blessed thistle, depending on your goals.


One popular way is to make blessed thistle tea. You can buy blessed thistle tea bags or blessed thistle tea concentrate. Often, blessed thistle will come as part of a tea blend, with other herbs selected based on your health goals. For example, a mother’s milk tea (meant to support lactation) may contain blessed thistle, fenugreek, fennel, anise, and coriander.


An herbal poultice is a “paste made of herbs, clay, activated charcoal, salts, or other beneficial substances” that is wrapped in cloth and placed on the skin. Obviously, a poultice is used when contact with the skin is beneficial - think herbal poultices that may treat bug bites, stings, burns or rashes.

Because blessed thistle is used to treat bacterial infections, some people will use a blessed thistle poultice as a treatment for boils, wounds, or ulcers. The tannins in blessed thistle, and their potential anti-inflammatory properties, may make a blessed thistle poultice ideal for swelling around an injury. To make a simple blessed thistle poultice, soak some gauze in blessed thistle and apply it to the area that needs treatment.


If teas or poultices aren’t your thing, capsules are an easy way to ingest blessed thistle. You can find blessed thistle capsules online, or at most grocery or health food stores. As with tea, you can take capsules that are strictly blessed thistle, or a blend that contains blessed thistle, such as this fenugreek, anise, and blessed thistle blend meant to support lactation.


As with all herbal supplements, your use of blessed thistle (including the appropriate dose) may be affected by your age, medical history, and other drugs or supplements you are taking. Pregnant women should not take blessed thistle. Be sure to talk with your healthcare practitioner to make sure you can safely incorporate blessed thistle into your diet.
Have you ever made a blessed thistle poultice? How about tea? How did it go?

Tuesday 27 March 2018

What Makes Bladderwrack Perfect for Thyroid Health

Bladderwrack is an oddly named plant with a lot of potential health benefits. Bladderwrack is a type of algae and seaweed. It also goes by names like black tang, rockweed, sea oak, and rock wrack.

If you’re in an area where bladderwrack grows naturally, then you can easily pick some of your own. Bladderwrack grows in cold ocean waters, and is found mostly on the United States’ northern Atlantic and Pacific coasts and Europe’s Baltic coast.

Bladderwrack that is ready to be harvested will have fully inflated bladders. These bladders (which the plant gets its name from) are how you can identify them. Bladderwrack has a tough central stem (called the thallus) that is full of air-filled pods, or “bladders.” When they are inflated they help the plant float on the surface of the water.

Bladderwrack Benefits

Although bladderwrack has a strange name (and a strange appearance), there are a lot of reasons you might want to incorporate it into your diet. These are three main components of bladderwrack, iodine, alginic acid, and fucoidan, that are believed to provide it potential medicinal benefits.


Bladderwrack is most often associated with iodine. Seawater and soil naturally contain iodine, so plants like bladderwrack that grow and live in seawater absorb and contain large quantities of iodine. All types of seaweed, including kelp, dulse, and nori, contain iodine. However, because they derive iodine from their environment the amount of iodine present in bladderwrack varies.

Iodine is an essential element that helps to regulate thyroid hormone production. Our bodies do not naturally make iodine, so we need to get it from outside sources. A lack of iodine can lead to an enlarged thyroid or hypothyroidism. 

Alginic Acid

Alginic acid is a type of dietary fiber that may provide temporary relief from occasional constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and heartburn (though human studies have not been completed to confirm this). Some components of alginic acid such as calcium alginate and the sodium salt of alginic acid have been found to support healthy-looking skin and abdominal comfort.


Fucoidan is a dietary fiber that may support cholesterol and glucose levels already within the normal range, may support the immune system, and clotting factors. 

How to Take Bladderwrack

Bladderwrack is most commonly taken in a supplement, tablet, extract, or powder form. However, there are also ways to cook bladderwrack and incorporate it into your diet.

Bladderwrack Egg Drop Soup

To make this simple soup, you will first mince leeks, ginger, and turmeric and fry them in sesame oil. Bladderwrack is then added to the pan and lightly fried, and then spiced with black pepper and chili flakes. Add some water to start the broth, and add rice noodles (if desired). Finalize the soup by incorporating egg and miso. See the full directions for this soup here.

Mile High Wild Pie

The best part of this recipeis its versatility. Most ingredients can be subbed in for other ingredients. You should include some wild coastal green, fresh wild fungi, your choice of woodland or hedgerow greens, and herbs or flavorings available to you. The directions for this one are a little more involved, so you’ll want to follow this recipe, but as a whole, it’s a recipe that makes natural use of bladderwrack as an ingredient.

By Itself

The bladders of the bladderwrack can also be eaten on their own. After the bladders are separated from the frond and dried, they can simply be eaten as is. If you’re a fan of seaweed flavorings, you’ll enjoy bladderwrack.

Have you found a better way to enjoy bladderwrack? Are you in a location where you can find and pick your own?