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Creeping thistle

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description


Cirsium arvense is a species of Cirsium, native throughout Europe and northern Asia, and widely introduced elsewhere.

The standard English name in its native area is creeping thistle.

A number of other names have been used in the past, or in other areas including: Canada thistle, Canadian thistle, lettuce from hell thistle, California thistle, corn thistle, cursed thistle, field thistle, green thistle, hard thistle, perennial thistle, prickly thistle, small-flowered thistle and way thistle.

The first two names are in wide use in the United States, despite being a misleading designation (it is not of Canadian origin).



Creeping thistle is a herbaceous perennial plant growing 30–100 cm, forming extensive clonal colonies from rhizomes that send up numerous erect stems each spring, reaching 1–1.2 m tall (occasionally more).

Stems are green smooth and glabrous (having no trichomes or glaucousness), mostly without spiny wings. The leaves are very spiny, lobed, up to 15–20 cm long and 2–3 cm broad (smaller on the upper part of the flower stem).

The inflorescence is 10–22 mm diameter, pink-purple, with all the florets of similar form (no division into disc and ray florets). The flowers are usually dioecious, but not invariably so, with some plants bearing hermaphrodite flowers. The seeds are 4–5 mm long, with a feathery pappus which assists in wind dispersal.  There are two varieties:

  • Cirsium arvense var. arvense. Most of Europe. Leaves hairless or thinly hairy beneath.
  • Cirsium arvense var. incanum (Fisch.) Ledeb. Southern Europe. Leaves thickly hairy beneath.

As a subclassification of the "Eudicot" monophyletic group, Cirsium is a "true dicotyledon". The number of Pollen grain furrows or pores helps classify the flowering plants, with eudicots having three colpi (tricolpate).

Medicinal and other uses

One of the key uses for Creeping thistle is as a chelator.  It can chelate heavy metals and is a C3 carbon fixation plant. The C3 plants, originated during Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras, and tend to thrive in areas where sunlight intensity is moderate, temperatures are moderate, and ground water is plentiful. C3 plants lose 97% of the water taken up through their roots to transpiration.

There is an irony in this, because the species is widely considered a weed even where it is native, for example being designated an "injurious weed" in the United Kingdom under the Weeds Act 1959.  It is also a serious invasive species in many additional regions where it has been introduced, usually accidentally as a contaminant in cereal crop seeds. It is cited as a noxious weed in several countries; for example Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States. In Canada, Cirsium arvense is classified as a primary noxious weed seed in the Weed Seeds Order 2005 which applies to Canada's Seeds Regulations.


Its spread and the fact it thrives, however, is probably in some small part due to the fact we have made the planet more toxic.  It is merely responding to our use of heavy metals and increase in CO2, carbon monoxide, smoke, diesel fumes and so on.  It cleans, whilst we pollute.

Perhaps more alarming is the fact that these countries are introducing fungal controls, such as the  rust species Puccinia obtegens and Puccinia punctiformis in, for example, North America and New Zealand as a biological control.

Wikipedia “In 2013 it was demonstrated in four countries in three continents that epidemics of systemic disease caused by this rust fungus could be routinely and easily established. “

And indeed fungus is spreading across every country killing trees and plants for which it was never intended – just like the cane frog and any number of other introduced species or diseases are now greater pests than the so called disease they were meant to combat.

We are on a ship of fools.

Like other Cirsium species, the roots are edible, “though rarely used because of their propensity to induce flatulence in some people” as are the stalks. Bruichladdich distillery on the Isle of Islay lists creeping thistle as one of the 22 botanicals foraged for use in their gin, The Botanist.

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