Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle

Silybum marianum

Family:  Asteraceae
Genus:   Silybum Adans
Species:  marianum

Synonyms and Common names: Marian Thistle, Mary Thistle, Mediterranean Milk Thistle and Variegated Thistle.

Description and Habitat: Members of this genus grow as annual or biennial plants. The erect stem is tall, branched and furrowed but not spiny. The large, alternate leaves are waxy-lobed, toothed and thorny, as in other genera of thistle.

The lower leaves are cauline (attached to the stem without petiole). The upper leaves have a clasping base. They have large, disc-shaped pink-to-purple, rarely white, solitary flower heads at the end of the stem. The flowers consist of tubular florets. The phyllaries under the flowers occur in many rows, with the outer row spine-tipped lobes and apical spines. The fruit is a black achene with a white pappus.

Milk thistle thrives in open areas. Also cultivated as an ornamental plant, milk thistle prefers a sunny position and self-seeds readily.

Parts used: the mature fruit.

Harvesting: Mature fruits and seeds are collected in late summer, and both need to be dried in a dark cool place.  Place them on a flat surface turning them occasionally, make sure the fruits dont touch each other.

Constituents: Flavones silybin, silydianin andsilychristin; essential oils, bitter principle; mucilage.

Actions: bitter, cholagogue, hepatoprotective.

Indications: loss of appetite, dyspepsia, toxic liver damage, cirrhosis, chronic inflammatory liver disease.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Milk thistle has a powerful protective action on the liver. Silymarin helps prevent the penetration of toxins into the liver cells and also stimulates the regenerative ability of the liver. It is used as an antidote to Death Cap mushroom poisoning.

This herb is wonderful and appropriate for anyone who is under stress, uses alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription medications, or lives in today's modern times of pesticides, environmental toxins, and pollution.

One of the special qualities of Milk Thistle is that it cleanses and detoxifies an overburdened and stagnant liver while also being able to strengthen and tones a weak liver; thus delivering potent medicine to clogged, excess conditions as well as to weakened, deficient conditionals. One of the tasks of the liver is to cleanse the blood. If the liver energy is stagnant it will be unable to effectively cleanse the blood; this can result in skin problems ranging from acne to psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. Milk Thistle is a powerful herb for supporting the liver to purify the blood and is one of the best herbs for the skin disorders mentioned above. It is also effective for treating congestion of the kidneys, spleen, and pelvic region.

Contraindications: Milk thistle extract is virtually devoid of any side effects and may be used by a wide range of people.  Since silymarin does stimulate liver and gallbladder activity, it may have a mild, transient laxative effect in some individuals. This will usually cease within two to three days.

Preparation and Dosage:

Infusion -  1 teaspoonsful of the dried leaf, make into an Infusion and drink three times a day.

Decoction - using the seeds of the milk thistle or the fruit. Drink two teaspoobsful in warm water 3 times a day.

Additional Comments & Folklore: Milk Thistle was named Silybum by Dioscorides in 100 AD because of its large purple ‘thistle like’ flower heads. Milk Thistle is also known as holy thistle, lady’s thistle and St May thistle. Milk Thistle has been used in various preparations for over 2000 years.

Its use as a liver protectant can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans.  Pliny the Elder wrote of it, praising its value for "carrying off bile." In the following centuries, various groups used milk thistle for a range of problems, including varicose veins, menstrual difficulty and congestion in the liver, spleen and kidneys.

There is a tradition that the milk-white veins of the leaves originated in the milk of the Virgin, which once fell upon a plant of Thistle, hence it was called Our Lady's Thistle, and the Latin name of the species has the same derivation.