Fullers teasel - Dipsacus fullonum
Common teasel - D. sylvestris
Small teasel - D. pilosus
A Eurasian native, teasel is a biennial plant with tall rigid and prickly flower stems. The leaves curve around the stem to form cups, or basins, (Venus’ basin) which collect and store rain and dew. These waters have long been used as a remedy for warts and also as a cosmetic eye wash. The genus name, Dipsacus, refers to this trait and derives from the latin verb meaning to be thirsty. Common names for this plant include card thistle, barber’s brush, brush and combs, and church broom.
Culpepper states that the medicinal uses of wild teasel and fullers teasel are the same, the root being the only part used, and possessing a cleansing ability. Dioscorides says that an ointment made from the roots is useful against warts and wens, and also for healing canker sores and fistulas. Teasel root infusions have traditionally been used to strengthen the stomach and as a remedy for jaundice. It has also been used as a mild stimulant, similar to caffeine, to alleviate lethargy.
In homeopathy teasel is used in the treatment of dermatitis, tuberculosis and anal fistulas.
Japanese teasel root, Dipsacus asperi seu japonicus, has enjoyed a long history of use throughout Asia. Used to promote the movement of blood and to repair damaged tissues, it is known as Xu Duan, which literally means to “restore what is broken.”
In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is used to tonifiy the liver and especially the kidneys, the seat of Jing. It strengthens bones and sinews and fortifies the lower back and knees. It is also called upon to alleviate pain, generate flesh, promote movement of blood, calm a restless fetus and stop uterine bleeding. Teasel brings moisture to stiff joints, strengthens weak legs, eliminates the threat of miscarriage, dries up vaginal discharge and eases trauma.
Common teasel, Dipsacus sylvestri, is an important remedy in the treatment of Lyme disease. Borrelia, the Lyme bacteria, is a spirochete, which means its body is spiral shaped and designed to drill into tissue such as joints, organs and bone. While buried within the tissue of our bodies, the spirochetes are cleverly concealed and out of reach of antibiotics and the immune system.
William LeSassier, the late Chinese Herbalist from New York City, first suggested the use of D. sylvestris, our domestic relative of the Japanese teasel, to combat Lyme. According to herbalist Matthew Wood, the roots have a gently warming affect on muscles and tissues of the body. This warming effect, he says, tends to coax the bacteria out from their hiding places and into the blood stream, where they will be exposed to the workings of the immune system and/or any herbal treatment or pharmaceutical antibiotics.
As the Lyme bacteria die off they release endotoxins into the blood stream and into tissues, and at times this happens at a faster rate than the body can comfortably handle. This process is referred to as the Herxheimer effect, or simply herxing. Symptoms may include intense fatigue, loss of memory, confusion and “brain fog,” chills, sweats and muscle and nerve pain. If using teasel to combat Lyme, start off slow and easy. It’s recommended that one begin with one drop of teasel tincture in water, adding just one drop daily and going up to 9 drops daily, taken in 3 drop doses, 3 times daily.
The principle commercial use of teasel has been in the textile industry, where it was used for fleecing or raising the nap on wool. The strength and flexibility of teasel heads, with their masses of semi stiff spines, made them an integral part of the wool manufacturing trade. When the plant begins to flower a ring of purple florets appear about 1/3 of the way down the flower head and then spread up and down simultaneously. It’s quite beautiful!
We dig teasel roots at the end of the first year of growth, while the plant is still a rosette. In the second year of growth the plant will send up its flower and by that time the root has long lost its medicinal potency. The seeds that will form after the flower blooms are an important source of food for many birds, including goldfinch. We tincture the roots while fresh in alcohol and also dry them on screens for later use.
Lady Barbara Tedesco Hall was a brilliant herbalist and a dear friend of mine. She was an early proponent of the use of teasel roots in the treatment of Lyme disease, and was primarily responsible for teaching much of the herbal community about the proper use of this medicinal plant. Her wisdom regarding teasel was in some ways otherworldly.
Lady Barbara’s ancestral family home, the place her grandparents emigrated to the United States from at the turn of the twentieth century, is not far from my village in Southern Italy. At least it seemed so, when looking on a map.
One day, toward the end of Lady Barbara’s life, when she was very sick, and I was in Italia, I decided to make a pilgrimage on her behalf to her original village. I wanted to take some photos so she could see what the place looked like. I knew from many conversations with her, that this would be a meaningful and deeply appreciated gift. My daughter Rosa, grandbaby Mariano and I drove all day through gorgeous mountainous terrain, finally arriving at her village late in the afternoon. We went directly to the church in the village square and I picked up a small rock from that holy ground to send to her, along with the photos. Since stones hold all memory of a place, I felt that if she held the rock in her hands the physical connection to her original home place and to her ancestral lineage would bring her great comfort and a sense of peace.
As we were leaving the village, we stopped by the side of the road to take a few last photos of the beautiful horizon, lined with all those dark purple/blue mountains. That is when I noticed that teasel plants were lining the road on both sides for as far as my eyes could see! Looking into the fields more closely, I saw that teasel was growing wild everywhere. It was a common, incredibly abundant herb in this particular area of Sud Italia.
I recognized then that Lady Barbara’s deep wisdom regarding teasel was an ancestral memory, it had been deeply encoded within her cells. She instinctively understood teasel medicine because her ancestors had no doubt used it as a remedy down through the ages. It was a great realization and a profound teaching for me.
I reverently wrapped her rock in a teasel leaf, tied it with grass from the roadside and sent it to her, along with the story of my discovery. To say she was pleased is a gross understatement and I felt deeply honored to have given her this gift before she passed from our world.
Long live the memory of Lady Barbara and her generous teachings about the teasel plant.
“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to ‘those who take care of us’”
Robin Wall Kimmerer