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Beware the teasel



November 11, 2012

Just the look of a teasel seedhead says ‘herbal remedy’. There’s something quite witchy-looking about it. I read that a tincture made from teasel root is used as a herbal remedy for lyme’s disease caused by tick-borne bacteria. But beware the teasel!

Botanically Dipsacus, and native to Europe and northern Africateasel flowers hold water or dew in a cup at the bottom of the inflorescence, an adaptation to prevent sap-sucking insects climbing up to reach the flowers. There is also some evidence suggesting that teasels are partly carnivorous on the insects drowned in this watery morass, and that this enhances their seed set.

The dried seedheads of Fullers teasel, which are covered with short, wiry barbs, were used for teasing or raising the nap on woollen fabrics. In Europe, teasels provide an important food source for the European goldfinch.

Teasels have often been grown for their very ornamental seedhead, used in wreaths and dried flower arrangements but have now become very weedy across much of northern America and also in south-eastern Australia and New Zealand, along disturbed roadsides but also invading home gardens. They are prolific seeders and control is difficult as they have a very long taproot and the cut off flowerheads can still set seed. They are also hard to spot as immature plants, as the small, green leafy basal rosettes doesn’t look much like the mature plant. Mechanical control is possible but laborious, and must be carefully timed. Chemical control is possible with glyphosate-based herbicides. See this weed advisory from Ohio.gov and also the Weeds of Australia factsheet

This video from the University of Wisconsin is helpful for identification.

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Peta Trahar
11 years ago

Oh dear, here we go again. I seem to have a penchant for the black sheep of the plant world and rather treasure my teasel. (bad me). It hasn’t really taken off and I find the seedlings dead easy to spot and lever out. Guess i’ll be losing some sleep now!

Jennifer Stackhouse
Jennifer Stackhouse
11 years ago

I have always loved teasels and even called my cat (who lived for 24 years) Teasel as she reminded me of one when she arrived as a bedraggled kitten at my back door. They were grown commercially in parts of the UK to service the woollen manufacturing industry in the 19th century. Sad to hear that a good looking plant with so many uses for us as well as the birds, and such interesting adaptations has made it on to the weed list. Jennifer