Many Irish people opt for a Shamrock tattoo in homage to their Irish roots so not surprisingly many Scots tend to go for a thistle tattoo to honour their heritage. Like the Scots themselves, the thistle is very tough and this plant grows in places that other vegetation may have difficulty. The plant protects itself with a thick layer of thorns and spines that bristle out of the stem and around its beautiful purple flower. Throughout Europe, the colour purple has long been associated with royalty and those of noble birth but as a tattoo image this colour really helps it stand out. The wily Scots however used this plant for cooking to stave off hunger during times of shortage or famine but the milk thistle in particular is also used for healing. This was grown all over the European continent for this very purpose and was a valuable asset for treating liver and stomach ailments thanks to its medicinal properties.

According to one ancient legend, the prickly thistle with its treacherous spines came to the rescue back in the tenth century and stopped the Vikings invading Scotland. Back in 980AD on a dark and moonless night, a group of Danes, who were heavily armed and approaching a camp of unsuspecting Scots, unwittingly stumbled across a patch of thistles as they walked barefoot to sneak up on the Scottish camp. Not surprisingly their cries of pain and agony woke the sleeping Scots who emerged from their camp to win the battle thanks to Vikings tender feet and a briar of thorny thistles.

The thistle was a symbol frequently depicted on the Heraldic Crests of many Highland clans of the Scottish Noble Houses. Early Kings of this country used this prickly stem crowned by its majestic purple flower on their own coat of arms and personal crests. In more modern times it has been adopted as an emblem for many Scottish associations including sports clubs and many rugby and football teams and a thistle tattoo is used as symbol of toughness for many of these sportsmen.

The unique Order of the Thistle, created by King James II in the 17th century is one of the oldest orders of knighthood that still exists today and for over a thousand years the thistle has been a distinctive symbol for Scotland in many ways. It is an emblem for the country itself with the tough motto, Nemo Me Impune Lacessit” or Who dares meddle with me as it translates. Therefore if you see a tough Scotsman with a thistle tattoo beware that this may be the message he wishes to convey with this particular image! However most Scots will chose this style of tattoo simply because they are proud to be Scottish and want to express their pride in the land of their birth. The thistle is also widely used for decorative purposes and can be seen everywhere particularly if you were to attend a Highland Games meet. From kilts and sporrans to food and drink the thistle is a strong symbol in whatever context it is used, signifying pride and determination, tenacity and toughness particularly against the odds or in times of hardship and adversity.

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