Milk thistle


Silybum marianum-Milk thistle

Family: Asteraceae or Compositae

Other names: Carduus lactifolius, Carduus marianus, Centaurea dalmatica, Mariana lactea

hazardsmallWhen grown on nitrogen rich soils, especially those that have been fed with chemical fertilizers, this plant can concentrate nitrates in the leaves. Nitrates are implicated in stomach cancers. Diabetics should monitor blood glucose when using. Avoid if decompensated liver cirrhosis. Possible headaches, nausea, irritability and minor gastrointestinal upset.

Milk thistle has a long history of use in the West as a medicinal herb as a remedy for depression and liver problems . Recent research has confirmed that it has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from damage resulting from alcoholic and other types of poisoning . The whole plant is astringent, bitter, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, stomachic and tonic  . It is used internally in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and poisoning . The plant is harvested when in flower and dried for later use. Silymarin, an extract from the seed, acts on the membranes of the liver cells preventing the entry of virus toxins and other toxic compounds and thus preventing damage to the cells . It also dramatically improves liver regeneration in hepatitis, cirrhosis, mushroom poisoning and other diseases of the liver . German research suggests that silybin (a flavonoid component of the seed) is clinically useful in the treatment of severe poisoning by Amanita mushrooms . Milk Thistle Hangover prevention is something we all did as student herbalists. Seed extracts are produced commercially in Europe . Regeneration of the liver is particularly important in the treatment of cancer since this disease is always characterized by a severely compromised and often partially destroyed liver . A homeopathic remedy is obtained from equal parts of the root and the seed with its hulls still attached . It is used in the treatment of liver and abdominal disorders . The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Silybum marianum Milk Thistle for dyspeptic complaints, liver and gallbladder complaints.

Habitat: S. Europe, N. Africa and W. Asia. Naturalized in Britain.Waste places , usually close to the sea , especially if the ground is dry and rocky.

Description of Milk Thistle:

Silybum marianum; Milk thistle is a BIENNIAL growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
Full sun. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.


milk thistle
By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Cultivation of Milk thistle:

Succeeds in any well-drained fertile garden soil. Prefers a calcareous soil and a sunny position. Hardy to about -15°c. The blessed thistle is a very ornamental plant that was formerly cultivated as a vegetable crop. Young plants are prone to damage from snails and slugs. Plants will often self sow freely.

 Propagation of Milk Thistle:

Seed – if sown in situ during March or April, the plant will usually flower in the summer and complete its life cycle in one growing season. The seed can also be sown from May to August when the plant will normally wait until the following year to flower and thus behave as a biennial. The best edible roots should be produced from a May/June sowing, whilst sowing the seed in the spring as well as the summer should ensure a supply of edible leaves all year round.

milk thistleCulinary uses of Milk Thistle:

Edible Parts: Flowers,  Leaves,  Oil,  Root,  Stem.
Edible Uses: Coffee, Oil, 

Root – raw or cooked. A mild flavour and somewhat mucilaginous texture. When boiled, the roots resemble salsify (Tragopogon hispanicus). Leaves – raw or cooked. The very sharp leaf-spines must be removed first, which is quite a fiddly operation. The leaves are quite thick and have a mild flavour when young, at this time they are quite an acceptable ingredient of mixed salads, though they can become bitter in hot dry weather. When cooked they make an acceptable spinach substitute. It is possible to have leaves available all year round from successional sowings . Flower buds – cooked . A globe artichoke substitute , they are used before the flowers open. The flavour is mild and acceptable, but the buds are quite small and even more fiddly to use than globe artichokes. Stems – raw or cooked. They are best peeled and can be soaked to reduce the bitterness. Palatable and nutritious, they can be used like asparagus or rhubarb or added to salads. They are best used in spring when they are young. A good quality oil is obtained from the seeds. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute.

milk thistle Medicinal uses of Milk Thistle:

Actions: Hepatic, galactogogue, demulcent, cholagogue.

Part Used: The seeds.

Indications: Milk Thistle can be used to increase the secretion and flow of bile from the liver and gall-bladder. Its traditional use as a liver tonic has been supported by research showing that it contains constituents which protect liver cells from chemical damage. It is used in a whole range of liver and gall bladder conditions including hepatitis and cirrhosis. Historically this herb has been used in Europe as a liver tonic and current phytotherpy indicates its use in a whole range of liver and gallbladder conditions including hepatitis and cirrhosis. It may also have value in the treatment of chronic uterine problems. A wealth of research done in Germany is revealing exciting data about reversal of toxic liver damage as well as protection from potential hepatotoxic agents.

 A number of chemical components of herb are now being shown to have this protective effect on liver cells. They are all flavones and flavo-lignins, the best studied being silymarin. Silymarin has been shown to reverse the effects of highly toxic alkaloids, such phalloidine and [[alpha]]-amanitine from the Avenging Angel mushroom (Amanita phalloides) as well as protect liver cells from their impact. The pharmacodynamics, site and mechanism of action of silymarin are becoming well understood, providing insights into the metabolic basis of this herbs activity., an activity long known and used by medical herbalists. As its name implies, it promotes milk secretion and is perfectly safe to be used by all breast feeding mothers.

Preparations & Dosage:

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1 teaspoonful of the ground seeds and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: 1-2 ml three times a day.

 Other uses of Milk Thistle:
my milk thistel fairy
Esoteric uses of Milk Thistle:

Magickal uses include strength, perseverance, wisdom, aid in decision making.  It is also thought to enrage snakes, causing them to fight against one another.



The Chemistry:

Constituents: Flavolignans; the mixture of these is known as “silymarin” and composed mainly of silybin (=silibinin), with isosilybin, dihydrosilybin, silydianin, silychristin, and in some varieties at least, silandrin, silymonin, silyhermin and neosilyhermin.


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