Field thistles

Chinese: 小蓟

Pinyin: Xiǎo Jì

Parts used: Dried aerial parts

TCM category: Herbs that cool the Blood

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: HeartLiver

Scientific name: Cirsium setosum

Other names: Small thistle

Use of field thistles (Xiao Ji) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities, wash, moisten slightly, cut into sections and dry

Dosage: 5 to 12g

Main actions according to TCM*: Cools the Blood to stop bleeding. Remove Blood stasis and clears swellings

Primary conditions or symptoms for which field thistles may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Nosebleed Bloody sputum Hematuria Hematochezia Abnormal uterine bleeding Carbuncles Sores

Common TCM formulas in which field thistles are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind field thistles (Xiao Ji)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), field thistles are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that cool the Blood' category. Herbs in this category are used to clear inflammatory and infectious conditions, referred to as 'Internal Heat' in TCM. This is why most of the herbs in this category will have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. In TCM one has too much 'Heat' in their body as a result of a deficiency of 'Yin' (which is Cold in nature, see our explanation on Yin and Yang) or, more commonly, an excess of Yang (Hot in nature). Herbs that cool the Blood treat the latter and as such tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.

As suggested by its category field thistles are plants that are Cool in nature. This means that field thistles tend to help people who have too much "heat" in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much heat in their body are said to either have a Yang excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition field thistles can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Field thistles also taste Bitter and Sweet. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like field thistles tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing heat, drying dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such field thistles are thought to target the Heart and the Liver. In addition to regulating blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the "spirit" which basically refers to someone's vitality. The Liver on the other hand is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and body fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on field thistles (Xiao Ji)

Cirsium setosum(Willd.) MB has reliable carcinoma-inhibiting effects.1

Two new phenylethanoid glycosides isolated from Cirsium setosum exhibited moderate hepatoprotective (i.e. preventing damage to the liver) activities.2


1. LI Yu, WANG Zhen-fei, JIA Rui-zhen (Key Laboratory of Mammal Reproductive Biology and Biotechnology, Ministry of Education, Inner Mongolia University, Huhhot 010021, China). Study on Inhibitory Effects of Extract of Cirsium Setosum(Willd.) MB on Growth of Four kinds of Human Carcinoma Cells[J]. Chinese Archives of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2008-02

2. Q Ma, Y Guo, B Luo, W Liu, R Wei, C Yang et al. (2016). "Hepatoprotective phenylethanoid glycosides from Cirsium setosum". Natural Product Research, Volume 30, Issue 16.

Use of field thistles (Xiao Ji) as food

Field thistles are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Thistle Soup.