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Valentine.gr  

October 2006

Did you know that The dried flower heads of teasel (dipsacus) was formerly widely used in textile processing, providing a natural comb for cleaning wool?

Teasel - Dipsacus sylvestris 

Teasel - Dipsacus spp.

Dipsacus is a genus of flowering plant in the family Dipsacaceae. The members of this genus are known as teasel or teazel or teazle. The genus includes about 15 species of tall herbaceous biennial plants (rarely short-lived perennial plants) growing to 1-2.5 m tall, native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa.

Dipsacus sylvestris is weed native of Europe, it is mostly seen along roadsides and fencerows. Its generic name, sylvestris, insinuates that it grows in the woods. However, you rarely see this plant in the woods, and again, more often it is seen in waste areas along roadsides. The name teasel comes from the Old English, taesun, to tease.

Dipsacus is derived from the Greek word 'dipsakos' which means diabetes, and a common symptom of which is thirst (Clark, 1998). The link between 'thirst' and the plant is apparently the water that sometimes accumulates at the base of the oppositely arranged and jointed leaves. 

Rain water can collect in this receptacle; this may perform the function of preventing sap-sucking insects such as aphids from climbing the stem. The leaves are lanceolate, 20-40 cm long and 3-6 cm broad, with a row of small spines on the underside of the midrib.

It is in flower from July to August, and the seeds ripen from August to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. The plant is self-fertile. It is noted for attracting wildlife.

Teasels are easily identified with their prickly stem and leaves, and the inflorescence of purple, dark pink or lavender flowers that form a head on the end of the stem(s). The inflorescence is ovoid, 4-10 cm long and 3-5 cm broad, with a basal whorl of spiny bracts. The first flowers begin opening in a belt around the middle of the spherical or oval flowerhead, and then open sequentially toward the top and bottom, forming two narrow belts as the flowering progresses. The dried head persists afterwards, with the small (4-6 mm) seeds maturing in mid autumn.

The seeds are an important winter food resource for some birds, notably the European Goldfinch; teasels are often grown in gardens and encouraged on nature reserves to attract them.

Teasels prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. They prefer acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. They cannot grow in the shade. They require moist soil. 

Teasels have been naturalised in many regions away from their native range, partly due to the import of Fuller's Teasel for textile processing, and partly by the seed being a contaminant mixed with crop seeds. The Fuller's Teasel (the cultivar group Dipsacus fullonum Sativus Group; syn. D. sativus) was formerly widely used in textile processing, providing a natural comb for cleaning, aligning and raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool. It differs from the wild type in having stouter, somewhat recurved spines on the seed heads. 

The bristly flower heads, matured and dried, were used by fullers to raise the nap on woollen cloth - to 'tease' it. Fuller's Teasel was cultivated from the small teasel to have larger, stiffer and spinier flower heads specifically for the job.

The heads were attached to a wheel, spindle or cylinder, which was spun against the cloth to raise the nap. The spines were more 'elastic' that metal, which was an advantage. If an obstruction was encountered, the spines would break rather than tear the cloth. 

Although metal brushes have now replaced teasel, it is still used by some who weave wool by hand, being used to separate and straighten the tangled fibres before spinning. They can also still be found used in the manufacture of billiard table cloths, the coverings of tennis balls, piano felts, the upholstery and roof linings of Rolls-Royces, and Guardsmen's tunics.

The water that collects in the leaves has been claimed to have marvellous cleansing properties, and is considered a good eyewash. However, observation shows that insects often drown in these pools of rainwater and dew. It could be for this reason that the water was also recommended to be a cure for warts and freckles. A root tea was once used as a diuretic, and to help stimulate the appetite.

Teasel is little used in modern herbalism, and its therapeutic effects are disputed. Traditionally it has been used to treat conditions such as warts, fistulae (abnormal passages opening through the skin) and cancerous sores. The root is diaphoretic, diuretic and stomachic. A homeopathic remedy is made from the flowering plant. It is used in the treatment of skin diseases.

A blue dye obtained from the dried plant is an indigo substitute. It is water soluble. A yellow is obtained when the plant is mixed with alum.

Teasels are also occasionally grown as ornamental plants, and the dried heads are used in floristry. They are popular with dried flower arrangers.

Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dipsacus

http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Dipsacus+fullonum

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/nursery-weeds/weedspeciespage/
teasel/common_teasel_Dipsacus_sylvestris_page.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A4185443

 

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Buffaloberry - Shepherdia argentea
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Mistletoe - Viscum album
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Coral Tree - Erythrina crista-galli
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Fritillaria imperialis - Crown imperial
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