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Scotland and Thistle Tea


This summer my family and I vacationed in beautiful Edinburgh. It was our first time in Scotland, and we began our trip with a picturesque train ride from London. We enjoyed stunning views of the countryside dotted with delightful towns, such as the seaside town of Berwick-upon-Tweed with its red-roofed stone buildings lining the coastline. As the train rolled toward Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, we were awed by Edinburgh Castle sitting high on a hill like a stone crown. Waverley Station sits in the middle of Old Town Edinburgh with its historic buildings and winding paths lined with shops and cafes. We knew that we were in for a treat.

Scotland boasts pristine lochs, vast verdant forests, and quaint countryside charm—it’s no wonder that royalty has always chosen it as their preferred vacation spot! While everyone is familiar with London and its afternoon tea spots, Scotland has its own proud tea culture.

Our first Scottish tea experience was a pleasant discovery of afternoon tea at the Café at Holyrood Palace. We enjoyed our hot tea with buttery scones and homemade Scottish strawberry jam. I carefully scanned the list of teas and kindly asked our server for a recommendation. The reply was “thistle tea of course!” I had never tried thistle tea before, but our tour guide had shown us the milk thistle growing along the countryside that he said was to drink but not touch! (due to its spiny characteristics.) So, I just had to order some.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a member of the Asteraceae family of plants and is also known as Scotch thistle, holy thistle, and Saint Mary’s thistle. The name derives from the milky white veins found on the leaves and also from the sap. The flowers have a distinctive appearance with purple “spikes.” Although there is a lack of strong clinical research studies and more investigation needs to be made, for many years milk thistle tea has been used as a tonic to aid with liver and gallbladder problems, prevent heart disease, regulate blood sugar, and also promote breast milk production. The majority of interest has surrounded milk thistle’s potential benefit for liver health due to the compound silymarin which is an antioxidant. Although, further research is needed to support silymarin as a disease preventative, the people of Scotland continue to drink thistle tea to promote a healthy lifestyle.

When I first tasted thistle tea, it tasted mild and slightly earthy for a black tea, but with nice floral undertones. I enjoyed it without milk, but you can certainly add milk or a lemon wedge if desired. Before leaving Scotland, I purchased thistle tea from the Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company in convenient tea sachets. It makes a lovely breakfast tea, but I prefer it in the early afternoon for a nice pick-me-up before starting the second half of my day. Although I love the flavor and the thoughts of boundless health benefits, I mostly enjoy the memories that it brings to me from our travels to Scotland. Next time you visit, be sure to order a nice pot of thistle tea—and don’t forget the hot scones and the strawberry preserves!

If you are interested in thistle tea and other herbal infusions, then check out my Masterclass with the UK Tea Academy. Click here for the link.

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