The carline thistle resembles a golden disk in the middle of the meadows. According to some people, it also looks like a fried egg. However, it more resembles a thistle. It is one of those plants that cannot hide from any walker.
A legend says an angel advised Charlemagne that this plant helped prevent the plague in his armies. Hence, he obliged his soldiers to eat it, thus avoiding a terrible epidemic. It is in honor of the Holy French emperor that this thistle is called carline. With time, this legend was also attributed to another emperor: Charles the first of Spain and fifth of Germany.
The fame of the carline thistle as plague preventing was that the outstanding Spanish botanist Andres de Laguna (1499-1560) recommended its root as an “admirable remedy against the plague.” Unfortunately, despite the carline thistle, many millions of European fell victims to the plague.
For several centuries, physicians and pharmacologists smiled at the claims of Andres de Laguna. How could it prevent or heal the plague, an infectious disease caused by a micro-organism, by using a plant? But, in a historic turnaround, carline thistle was shown to contain an antibiotic substance, carlinoside. Today, research is being conducted on the antibiotic effects of this substance and its application.
Healing Properties and Indications
The root of the carline thistle contains inulin (a sugar), resin, tannin, and essential oil, among whose components are carlinoside. The whole set of those active components gives the plant the following properties:
- Sudorific and mildly diuretic. This makes the plant useful for influenza, colds, and catarrhs. Font Quer noted that carline thistle root was successfully used during an epidemic, not of the plague, but influenza in Europe in 1918. This is much more believable after knowing that the root of the carline thistle contains substances with antibiotic properties.
- Vermifuge. As a decoction of root taken on an empty stomach for four or five days, the carline thistle is effective against intestinal parasites (taeniae and roundworms).
- Stomach invigorator and cholagogue (it promotes the emptying of the gall bladder). It is recommended when stimulating digestive processes are required: lack of appetite, poor digestion, gastritis.
Carline Thistle Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Carlina acaulis L.
- Other names: Carline.
- French: Carline, artichaut sauvage.
- Spanish: Carlina.
- Environment: It grows in open meadows on mountain slopes. Very common in the Pyrenees and Central Europe.
- Description: Thorny plant, similar to a thistle, of the Compositae family, which grows almost at ground level, with a short stem (less than 20 cm high). The flower chapter or flower head is formed by 100-odd small flowers, dark yellow, which grows on a flat disc some 10 cm in diameter. The leaves are radial and thorny.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The root (deeply rooted: 1-2 m) and the flower head (artichoke).
There is a stemless variety of carline (Carlina Cynara (D.C.) Pourr. = Carlina acanthifolia All.) which grows at ground level and is used as an ornamental plant. It is usually called Cynara or ornamental carline to distinguish it from the other carline varieties. Its medicinal properties are practically identical to those of the carline thistle.
How to use Carline Thistle
- Decoction with ground root (20-30 g per liter of water). Drink two or three cups a day, but never exceed the dose since it can provoke nausea.
- As a vegetable: the heart of carline thistle can be eaten cooked with potatoes or roasted. It has a taste similar to that of artichoke and is highly valued in some regions of France, where it is called “wild artichoke.” It contains the same active components as the root, though in a lesser proportion.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 749, 750. Print.