Barber's Brush

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Mike Oxley

Cornwall Ontario, Canada

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Artist's Description

Common Teasel (or Teazel)

I don’t think I’d be terribly happy with a Barber using one of these on the old dome. There’s precious little on top as it is!

Taken during The Bubblemeet
Parc Omega, Montebello, Quebec, Canada
August 9, 2011

We had returned to the parking lot to wait for the others to catch up and, as I was driving in, I spotted these growing along the side of the road. Just a little too far off to identify, so I had to go back and investigate. And guess what? I’d found yet another invasive species!

With thanks to

Common Teazel
Botanical: Dipsacus sylvestris 

Family: N.O. Dipsaceae


Venus’ Basin. Card Thistle. Barber’s Brush. Brushes and Combs. Church Broom.

Parts Used

Root, heads.


The Common Teazle is to be found on waste land, in hedgerows and dykesides, mainly in the south of England, being rarer in the north.

And now appearing at Parc Omega, Quebec, hopefully for only a limited time!


It is a biennial, with a tall, rigid, prickly, furrowed stem, generally attaining the height of 4 or 5 feet, bearing cylindrical flower-heads, globular when young, but lengthening out to a conelike shape when in full flower. The whole plant is very harsh and prickly to the touch.

For some distance below the head, the stems are bare except for prickles, then small pairs of leaves appear, joined directly by their bases to the main stem, with a shining, white midrib, on the back of which are many prickles. In the lower and larger pairs of leaves the bases are joined round the stem and form deep cups, which are capable of holding dew and rain. This conspicuous feature has earned the plant its older name of Venus’ Basin, and it was held that the water which collects there acquired curative properties. It was regarded as a remedy for warts, and was also used as a cosmetic and an eye-wash. The generic name of the plant, Dipsacus, also refers to this peculiarity in structure, being derived from the Greek verb, to be thirsty.

The English name, Teazle, is from the Anglo-Saxon taesan, signifying to tease cloth, and refers to the use of the flowerheads by cloth-workers. These heads are a mass of semi-stiff spines, the spines longest at the top of the head, each head being enclosed by curving, narrow, green bracts, set with small prickles, arising in a ring at the base of the head and following the line of the head, though a little outside it, curved inward at the tip. When the head commences to flower, the purple petals of the floret show in a ring about one-third of the way down and then spread upward and downwards simultaneously.

Medicinal Action and Uses

Culpepper tells us that the medicinal uses of both the Wild and Fuller’s Teazle are the same, and that ‘the roots, which are the only parts used, are said to have a cleansing faculty.’ He refers to the use of the water in the leaf-basins as a cosmetic and eye-wash, and tells us, on the authority of Dioscorides, that an ointment made from the bruised roots is good, not only for warts and wens, but also against cankers and fistulas.

Other old writers have recommended an infusion of the root for strengthening the stomach and creating an appetite. Also for removing obstructions of the liver, and as a remedy for jaundice.

Lyte, in his translation of Dodoens, 1586, says that the small worms found often within the heads ‘do cure and heale the quartaine ague, to be worne or carried about the necke or arme,’ a theory which Gerard contemptuously discards, from his own personal experience.

But the principal use of the Teazle, dating from long before Gerard’s time, still remains unchallenged, and that is for wool ‘fleecing,’ or raising the nap on woollen cloth. The cultivated variety, D. Fullonum, Gerard’s ‘tame Teasell’ is used, because, as already mentioned, its spines are crooked, not straight. These heads are fixed on the rim of a wheel, or on a cylinder, which is made to revolve against the surface of the cloth to be ‘fleeced,’ thus raising the nap. No machine has yet been invented which can compete with the Teazle in its combined rigidity and elasticity. Its great utility is that while raising the nap, it will yet break at any serious obstruction, whereas all metallic substances in such a case would cause the cloth to yield first and tear the material.
This particular Teazle is grown largely in the west of England, and also imported from France, Germany, Italy, Africa and America, to meet the needs of our manufacturers. One large firm uses 20,000 Teazle heads in a year.

The heads are cut as soon as the flowers wither, about 8 inches of stem remaining attached to them, and they are then dried and sorted into qualities.

The arms of the Clothworkers’ Company are three Teazle-heads.

Sony Alpha 700, Sigma 28 to 300 at 280 mm
iso 200, spot metered, F6.3, 1/125 second

Artwork Comments

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