Thursday, June 17, 2010


A drive to buy groceries in Winchester in June means a trip down a winding mountain road, alongside of which grow a diversity of wildflowers in wooded areas and rock outcroppings. This June morning I spied butterfly weed, Queen Anne’s Lace, and one of my favorite weeds—the thistle.

This particular species of thistle, according to my botanist friend, Vickie, is musk or nodding thistle, a plant partial to limestone soils. We have plenty of rocky soil on The Mountain, so the lovely purple plant thrives in this area. The thistle is actually native to Europe but has migrated to America and contains an abundance of medicinal ingredients that have been known, for centuries, to cure fevers. They’re also important to the making of paper, so they’re admired for both beauty and plant usefulness.

The thistle is a Celtic symbol denoting nobility of character; the Order of The Thistle is the highest heraldic Order of Scotland and has the distinction of being Scotland’s national flower. The thistle symbolizes a Scot’s “prickly determination.” This plant has also become the symbol for an organization called The Magdalene Community about which I read only recently.

Magdalene is a residential home established in Nashville, Tennessee and has a branch home in Chattanooga. In 1997, a female Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens, established this community to house women who had histories of prostitution and drug addiction. They were allowed to live at Magdalene at no cost for two years. At Magdalene, they operated (and new residents continue to operate) Thistle Farms, a non-profit business, where they create natural bath and body products, and all proceeds go back into the program.

In the information about Thistle Farms provided to the public, the thistle is recognized as a weed that sometimes grows on the streets and alleys the women of Magdalene have traversed. However, the thistles have a deep tap root that allows them to penetrate thick concrete; they can also survive drought. Thus, they represent tenacity of spirit, which is seldom attributed to women of the streets.

What a perfect symbol for an organization that rehabilitates women of the streets. The women often tout their time in this community as the “best life I’ve ever had.” Click on the following hypertext, Thistle Farms, to read a few of the women’s testimonies, to see the products they have created at a place where they learn job skills, cooperation, and responsibility. You’ll gain a new perspective about women of the streets and their symbol, the prickly thistle.

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