Teasels earn their name as the spiky flower heads were used to comb woollen cloth, to ‘tease’ out the fibres prior to spinning (from the Old English teasan, meaning to tease) (3)(4). The heads of fuller’s teasel (D. sativus) have curved spines; they were also used to raise the pile, or ‘nap’ of cloth (4). Wild teasel is a tall and rather statuesque plant, with a deeply angled and furrowed stem (2). The leaves at the base of this stem form a rosette, whereas those occurring on the stem are arranged in pairs. The Romans called the plant ‘lavacrum Veneris’, meaning the basin of Venus, as these stem leaves are joined at the base, forming rainwater-collecting cups surrounding the stem (3). The tube-like flowers are purplish-rose in colour, and are protected by the spines (2).
Wild teasel is a biennial plant that grows from a stout, yellow tap-root(2). Flowers are present from July to August (6), and are pollinated by various bees and long-tongued flies (2). They are well-known for attracting wildlife to gardens (6).
During the eighteenth century, the water collected by the leaves of teasels was thought to remove freckles. It has also been used to soothe sore eyes (4). The roots have been used to treat warts, sores, and other skin problems (6).
This plant is widespread in Britain south of a line drawn between the Humber to the Severn Estuary. It becomes more scattered in Wales and Cornwall and in the north (2)(5). Elsewhere, this species occurs in central and western Europe, reaching east to central Russia and Turkey. It is also found in North Africa and western Asia (2).
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