As the Shamrock is to the Irish, so too is the Thistle to the Scots. The Thistle is a tough plant, able to grow in places that challenges lesser vegetation and it protects itself with a dense covering of thorny bristles and spines. It is crowned with a beautiful purple flower, a color long associated in Europe with royalty and nobility. In most places the Thistle might be considered a nuisance and a weed. Poor Scots, on the verge of starvation during particularly hard times, would steam and steep thistles in boiling water in order to survive. The Scottish Highlanders were every bit as tough as the prickly plant. The milk thistle was highly valued for it's medicinal properties and was grown all over Europe for its use in treating liver and stomach ailments. It was even used in salads - sans prickles and spines!
Legend has it that those spines, and the prickly thistle, helped save Scotland from a Viking invasion in the tenth century. Supposedly on a dark, moonless night in 980 A.D. a heavily armed group of Danes were about to descend upon an unwary and unsuspecting camps of Scots when the Danes, who were walking barefoot so as not to make any noise and so sneak up on the Scots, stumbled through a briar patch of thistles. Their agonized moans and cries of pain quickly woke the Scots who won the battle that was no doubt aided by the tender feet of the Danish Vikings!
The symbol of the Thistle, it's prickly stem crowned with a majestic purple flower, was prominently featured in the Heraldic Crests of many Highland Clans and of Noble Scottish Houses. The early Kings of Scotland used the Thistle as their personal heraldic crest and in their Coat of Arms.
In modern times, many Scottish Associations, rugby clubs, football teams and other sports organizations feature the thistle in their team logos, as a point of Scottish pride and as a symbol of toughness!
As a tattoo design, the Thistle is a distinctly Scottish emblem, and speaks of the pride in being one of the forty million people who are descended from Scots who emigrated around the world. If you ever go to a Highland Games meet, you will see nearly as many representations and decorative uses of the symbol of the Thistle as you will see kilts and sporrans. The thistle is a symbol of pride, determination, tenacity and toughness in the face of great hardship and long odds.
Below you will find a gallery of inspirational images that will help you in your quest of creating the perfect Thistle tattoo.