Dipsacus fullonum

Dipsacus fullonum

The Wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum L.) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Caprifoliaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Subarign Tracheobionta,
Spermatophyta superdivision,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Order Dipsacales,
Caprifoliaceae family,
Genus Dipsacus,
D. fullonum species.
The term is synonymous:
– Dipsacus silvestris Huds.
In Italy, the following subspecies are also present:
– Dipsacus fullonum L. subsp. fullonum;
– Dipsacus fullonum subsp. sativus (L.) Thell ..

Etymology –
The term Dipsacus comes from the Greek διψα dípsa sete: reference to the hollow that the connate leaves form near their insertion on the stem. The name dipsacos, thistle to be carded, is mentioned by Pliny.
The specific epithet fullonum is the plural genitive of fullo, fullonis laundress and later also fuller, carder: of carders, due to the thorny infructescences that were used to card linen and wool.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Wild teasel is a plant native to Eurasia and North Africa, but is also present and known in America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, where it was introduced incorrectly and is often a pest.
It is however an entity with a range centered on the Mediterranean coasts, but with extensions to the north and east up to the limit of the vine.
In Italy it is present in all regions.
Its habitat is that of ruderal vegetation along the roads, in abandoned landfills and crops, on neutral-basic loamy-clay soils, rather fresh and rich in nitrogen compounds, from sea level to about 1400 m.

Description –
Dipsacus fullonum is an easily identifiable plant with its robust stem and leaves and purple inflorescence. It is a biennial plant, with a robust tap root, erect, tubular stems, forked at the apex, furrowed, with soft and patent thorns; reaches 2 m in height.
The leaves are lanceolate, 20-40 cm long and 3-6 cm broad, with small thorns on the underside. The basal leaves in oblong-suboval rosette have thorns on the central vein, on the lower page and sometimes also on the upper one. The cauline leaves are opposite, welded 2 to 2 at the base (connate), broad lanceolate, the margins, the midrib and the upper page are thorny and toothed.
The flowers are whitish or mauve in color and are gathered in oval flower heads, wrapped in thorny linear bracts and longer than the flowers. The corollas have the upper lobe more developed than the other three; between the flowers there are numerous protruding acute bracts.
The first flowers to bloom are those in the middle of the inflorescence, the flowering then moves towards the two extremes leaving two thin bands of flowers open.
The inflorescence is cylindrical in shape, measuring up to 10 cm in length and has purple flowers that dry up reducing to scariose bracts.
The temporal and progressive shift from anthesis and is a plant strategy that favors fertilization.
The anthesis is between June and August.
The fruit is an angular and elongated cypsela (small achene), 6-8 mm, covered by the tetragonal casing, with 8 ribs, hairy, crowned by the edge of the persistent calyx.
In the genus Dipsacus, the stiffening and elongation, to form a hook, of the bracts, together with the habitus similar to that of the Thistles, make it possible for the achenes to catapult when the plant is touched by animals.

Cultivation –
Dipsacus fullonum is a spontaneous plant that requires only a little moisture in the soil to grow. It develops very well in a wide range of soils and needs sunny areas to grow in the first year and flower in the second. This plant does not fear the cold but becomes more sparse as you proceed in altitude up to an altitude of 1400 m. sl.m ..
To proceed with the collection of this plant, it is necessary to avoid plants that grow in too disturbed and polluted contexts (near roads, highways, railways, construction sites, intensely cultivated countryside, etc.), moreover it is necessary to have a pair of sturdy gloves contact with the very pungent and painful thorns that pervade the whole plant.

Customs and Traditions –
The Wild teasel is a spontaneous plant that can be exchanged with other similar plants. Among these we remember:
– Dipsacus fullonum subsp. sativus (L.) Thell. – Woolen thistle, once grown wild in northern Italy, now disappeared, similar to subsp. nominal but more thorny with often divided cauline leaves, shorter scales;
– Dipsacus laciniatus L. – fringed teasel, which stands out for being a plant with lobed-matched cauline leaves coarsely toothed with sharp bristles on the edge;
– Dipsacus ferox Loisel. – Very thorny teasel, which is distinguished by having a stem with robust thorns and leaves with sharp thorns on the edge;
– Dipsacus pilosus L. – Hairy teasel, which is distinguished by the stem with pungent bristles, leaves narrowed at the base, not forming cup, the pedunculated caulins and provided with 2 semiamplessicauli orecchiette, ± spherical heads inclined before anthesis, non-protruding scales, yellowish-white corolla with violet anthers.
This plant, wrongly considered not very widespread, deserves a place in the flower beds in the garden for its particular ornamentality, given the size that allows you to appreciate the summer flowering, which is long-lasting. Also noteworthy are the sculptural forms, which are well suited to those who love well-defined and thorny plants, and the beauty that the flower heads take on once they have faded: they dry easily on the plant, remaining in perfect shape until the following spring. Alternatively, they can be cut and dried upside down, to be used in compositions of dried flowers.
Dipsacus fullonum, together with its cultivated form, was widely used in the textile industry to clean and card wool.
The plant forms a cup at the base of the stem and rainwater can be collected by this structure and reduce the risk of aphids rising on the stem. A recent experiment has shown a greater growth if dead insects are added to this cup: it would be a partial form of carnivorous plant.
This thistle has been used in the processing of wool since the most ancient times of the Egyptian civilization; Charlemagne also mentions it in the Capitulars (812 AD), recommending the cultivation of “cardones” in the garden, alongside other crops for the “familia”. The selection work is most likely due to religious congregations, they introduced cultivation in uncultivated land and spread it widely in France.
The cultivated species Dipsacus sativus (L.) Honck., Is in fact derived from the selection made by man over the centuries on plants that had more uniform and compact flower heads and therefore more suitable for raising. This use, in Italy, led to the cultivation of thistles from the mid-19th century, by Sisto Bocci (owner of the Soci wool mill): French seeds were imported to improve their quality by increasing the size of the flower head. From that moment, due to a series of political conjunctures that favored the development of a real textile industry in Italy, the connected industrial cultivation of thistle also took off, becoming a permanent part of the Casentino cultivation system.
The crop found its maximum expansion in the 50s and 60s and its decline began with the increase in the cost of labor and with the change in textile trends.
The “garzi” (infructescences) are still used today, to remove the surface wad of wool fabrics, making them softer and shinier, in the processing of fine fabrics and the traditional “Panno del Casentino”, to obtain the typical “curl” . In fact, the vegetable thistle, unlike those of steel or plastic, also has thorns on the pages of the bracts and allows for a finer processing.
Among the historical curiosities and legends it should be remembered that:
– The fullones, the Roman merchants who dedicated themselves to the processing and sale of wool, used the dry heads of the plant, hard and at the same time elastic, to card the wool. This use has lasted for centuries and has also been applied to other fibers, such as cotton, to obtain velvets, thus making it necessary to grow the plant on a large scale. The carding work was initially manual, but then the flower heads were threaded, like on a skewer, into a metal rod and then inserted into a rotating mechanical system which greatly speeded up the process.
– In Scotland there is a knightly order called “del cardo”, founded in 1687 by James II. Its symbol is represented by a gold collar of thistles and rue buds, from which hangs a medallion with the effigy of St. Andrew, protector of the order, whose seat is the church of St. Giles in Edinburgh .
– The dried flower heads, left natural or sprayed with colored or glitter sprays, lend themselves very well as decorative elements of elegant compositions, possibly together with other dried flowers, berry branches, leaves, fruits, vegetables, bark , with stones and whatever else the imagination and the aesthetic sense suggest.
The seeds of this plant are an important winter resource for many winter birds and are often grown for ornamental purposes and to attract birdlife.
The main constituents contained in this plant are: glycoside, scabioside, organic acids, saponins.
The plant has sweat, aperitif, diuretic and purifying properties. In the past, it was used in folk medicine as a remedy for chapped skin and in the treatment of anal fistulas.

Preparation Method –
Of the Wild teasel, various parts of the plant can be used:
– The leaves can be used fresh and therefore have a harvest period limited to spring; the roots, on the other hand, are uprooted in autumn, from plants in the first year of vegetation; after which they are washed, cut into 4-5 cm long pieces, dried in a cool, airy and shady place, and stored for about a year in dark glass jars.
With these parts you can make various preparations for healing purposes:
– To facilitate digestion, infuse 30 g of roots in 1 liter of boiling water for 10 minutes; it is filtered, left to cool and drink a glass after meals without sweetening.
– An alcoholic digestive can be prepared; 40 g of roots are infused in 1 liter of food alcohol or grappa for 15 days in a dark glass jar exposed to the sun and shaken every day; 70 g of sugar are added at this point and placed in the sun for another 15 days, shaking the jar daily; it is then filtered and bottled, keeping the bottle in a cool and dark place; it should not be consumed until one month after bottling. If necessary, a glass after meals.
– To purify the body, 20g of roots can be infused in 1 liter of boiling water for 10 minutes, filtered, allowed to cool and drink a glass every morning on an empty stomach without sweetening, all for three weeks. It is then suspended for two weeks and the three-week cycle is repeated. Hiring is recommended twice a year, in April and October.
– To combat juvenile acne, a decoction can be prepared by boiling 50 g of roots in 1 liter of water for 10 minutes; let it cool, filter and drink two cups a day sweetening with acacia or dandelion honey.
– Against eczema, 40 g of dried roots can be boiled for 10 minutes in 1 liter of water; it is filtered and left to cool; they are drunk two cups a day sweetened with acacia or dandelion honey.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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