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Milk Thistle

  • Silybum marianum L.
  • Carduus marianus
  • Compositae
  • Composite family

Common Names

herbsHoly thistle
herbsSt. Mary's thistle

Parts Usually Used

Fruits (contain the highest concentration), seeds and leaves

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

A stout, annual or biennial plant, grows to 6 feet in height; the branched, shining-brown stem grows 1-3 feet high and bears large, alternate, dark green, shiny leaves with spiny, scalloped edges and white spots along the veins. The upper leaves clasp the stem. The small, composite, solitary, spherical, reddish-purple flower heads at the ends of the stalks, subtended by spiny bracts with a silky crown of hair, which is soon shed, appear from June to August.

Where Found

Found in dry, rocky soils in southern and western Europe and in some parts of the United States. Common in California.

Medicinal Properties

Cholagogue (stimulates flow of bile), liver tonic, stimulant, demulcent, antidepressant, galactagogue

Biochemical Information

Active flavonoid silymarin (a unique type of flavonoid with antioxidant ability).

Legends, Myths and Stories

Milk thistle helps regenerate liver cells and helps cleanse the liver of dangerous toxins. In several European studies performed in the 1970's on rats, animals who had their livers partially removed experienced a regeneration of liver cells after receiving milk thistle extract.

This herb is extremely popular in Europe as a tonic for the liver, the body's second largest organ. This herb contains a flavonoid called silymarin that has been shown to have a direct effect on liver cells. Known as vitamin P, flavonoids are substances found in plants that often work in conjunction with vitamin C and offer many other health benefits. Often referred to as the body's "chemical factory," the liver plays a critical role in maintaining good health. It produces bile, which is necessary for the break-down of fats. It detoxifies poisons that enter our bloodstream, such as nicotine, alcohol, and pollutants such as carbon monoxide. It breaks them down from potentially lethal substances into those that are less destructive to our bodies. The liver is also the site where vitamins A, D, E, and K are stored. Numerous European studies sow that this herb enhances overall liver function, as well as stimulates the production of new liver cells.

The herb is beneficial for those suffering from hepatitis, inflammation of the liver, or cirrhosis of the liver (a condition often caused by excessive alcohol intake). This herb is also recommended for all smokers or anyone exposed to pollutants in the workplace.


Young leaves eaten as a vegetable.

A tonic and anti-depressant. Has a tonic effect on the heart, brain, and kidneys. It is said to restore a memory impaired by old age or sickness. Used for all liver disorders such as jaundice, liver disorders, and hepatitis. Stimulates the production of new liver cells and prevents formation of damaging leukotrienes. Protects the kidneys and is beneficial in cases of psoriasis. Good for gallstone colic.

Use the leaves for common stomach problems like lack of appetite, and dyspepsia.

Clinical trials have found it especially useful in the treatment of Amanita mushroom poisoning; it is credited with saving a number of lives in Europe.

Research suggests seed extracts may have therapeutic possibilities in liver cirrhosis.

Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: 1 1/2 oz. leaves and chopped stalk, add to 1/2 pint water. Take a wineglassful every day.

Also; infusion: steep 1 tsp. powdered seeds with water, take 4-5 times per day.

Tincture: take 15 to 25 drops, 4 or 5 times per day.

How Sold

Capsules: take 1 capsule 3 times daily.

Commercial preparations of the seed extracts are manufactured in Europe.

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