Biological Name: Silybum marianum
Holy thistle, marythisle, St. Mary’s thistle, Marian Thistle, Milk Thistle
Parts Used: seeds, leaves
Milk thistle seeds contain a bioflavonoid complex known as silymarin. This constituent is responsible for the medical benefits of the plant. Silymarin is made up of three parts: silibinin, silidianin, and silicristin. Silibinin is the most active and is largely responsible for the benefits attributed to silymarin.
Pliny, a first century A.D. Roman naturalist, stated that Milk Thistle was “excellent for carrying off bile”. In other words, it restores impaired liver functions. Milk thistle supplies an antidote to the death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides), which kills its victims by destroying liver cells.
Ancients believed that the white veins that mottled the leaves of milk thistle represented drops of the Virgin Mary’s milk, fallen there when she nursed baby Jesus.
Milk thistle is believed to protect the cells of the liver by blocking the entrance of harmful toxins and helping to remove these toxins from the liver cells. As with other bioflavonoids, silymarin is a powerful antioxidant. Milk thistle also regenerates injured liver cells.
The leaves of milk thistle provide a bitter tonic. The seeds are cholagogue. Leaves are used for common stomach problems like lack of appetite and dyspepsia. The seeds are used for liver, gallbladder, and spleen problems, and for jaundice and gallstone colic.
A recent study found that milk thistle may offer some protection against the toxic side effects of the common painkiller acetaminophen
A stout, annual or biennial plant found in dry, rocky soils in southern and western Europe and in some parts of the US. The branched, shining brown stem grows 1 to 3 feet high and bears alternate, dark green, shiny leaves with spiny, scalloped edges and white spots along the veins. The upper leaves clasp the stem. Large solitary, purple flower heads subtended by spiny bracts appear from June to August.
Many people with liver disease and impaired liver function take 420 mg of silimarin per day from an herbal extract of milk thistle standardized to 70-80% silymarin content. Improvement should be noted in about 8 to 12 weeks. When that occurs, reduce to intake to 280 mg of silymarin per day. The lower amount also may be used for preventive measures. Milk thistle seeds can be ground and eaten or made into a tea. Use 12-15 grams. This should not be considered as therapeutic for conditions of liver.
Silymarin stimulate liver and gallbladder activity. Hence, it may have a mild, transient laxative effect in some individuals. This will cease within two to three days.
Other than this, milk thistle extract is virtually devoid of any side reactions. It may be used by a wide range of people, including pregnant and lactating women.