Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

—Herb for Detoxification
Klaus Ferlow, HMH, HA—05/2016
Milk Thistle is a herb used for liver detoxification and support, and is even prescribed poisoning, cirrhosis, hepatitis and drug/alcohol induced liver damage. It also has other non-liver related benefits such as lowering cholesterol and reducing cancer growth.

Benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle has been used medicinally for thousands of years and it stands out for its ability to gently protect the liver against many toxins and there it is called "liver's protective powerhouse."

The seeds of milk thistle (also known as St Mary's thistle) contain a group of antioxidant compounds collectively to the name silymarin. Your liver and gallbladder are vital for your digestive and detoxification process.

In the 1960's, interest in milk thistle was rekindled when researchers isolated a complex of chemicals from the herbs seeds. A combination of flavonoligans believed to be responsible for the hepatic activity, was first isolated from the ripe seeds. Milk thistle is a clear example in which scientific investigation has confirmed the historical use of a herbal product.

Compounds in milk thistle protect liver cells from damage caused by alcohol, acetaminophen and some form of hepatitis and can also be used to prevent or treat effects of fatty foods, liver damage from toxic exposure, chronic liver disease, certain types of liver cirrhosis, for headaches and skin problems associated with poor function. Some researchers have suggested that milk thistle may also be useful in the management of psoriasis.

Adverse effects of silymarin appear to be very rare. Because it increases bile flow, it my cause mild diarrhea in some individuals. Additional benefits are:

  • colic
  • indigestion, bowel disorders
  • jaundice
  • dermatitis
  • diabetes
  • gallstones
  • high cholesterol
  • inflammation
  • nausea
  • obesity
  • menstrual pain
  • stomach disease
  • uterine disease
  • spleen disease
  • mushroom poisoning
  • protects the kidneys
  • adrenal disorders
  • boost immune system

Studies from Europe demonstrate that milk thistle extract extends lives, improves liver function, and relieves symptoms associated with cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, jaundice and poisoning No contraindications are associated with this herb, even in larger doses. Despite its safety, individuals who have liver disease or are treated for cancer should discuss the use of any dietary supplement with their health care provider!


History of Milk Thistle

Originally milk thistle is a stout, annual or biennial plant found in dry, rocky soils in Southern and Western Europe, the Middle East and it is now naturalized to the east coast of North America, California and South America and belongs to the Asteraceae or daisy familly. The branched shining-brown stems grows to 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 June to August.


How to use Milk Thistle

Seeds: are a good source of protein and amino acids, can be added on to cereals or smoothies. Grind them and cook with oatmeal, or substitute milk thistle for flax seeds in recipes.

Smoothies: ½ cup oats, 1 banana, 1 dried fig, 1 teaspoon ground Milk thistle seeds

½ teaspoon vanilla powder, 500ml Almond milk or other milk of choice. Makes a lovely breakfast drink

Tea: simmer one teaspoon crushed milk thistle seeds and one cup water for ten minutes, strain and drink one to two cups a day

Tincture: available as single tincture 50ml or combo tincture 100ml, 15 – 25 drops starting one time in the morning on empty stomach, dosage can later be increased

Extract: follow suggestion on the label

Powder: take one teaspoon powered seeds with water, four to five times a day

Infusion: steep one teaspoon seeds in ½ cup water, take one to one to a half cups a day, a mouthful at a time.




Hoffman David, Medical Herbalism, Healing Arts Press 2003

Wood Matthew, The Earthwise Herbal, North Atlantic Books 2008

Tillotson A.K., The One Earth Herbal, Kingston, 2001