- Silybum Milk Thistle Info: Tips For Planting Milk Thistle In Gardens
- Silybum Milk Thistle Info
- Milk Thistle Invasiveness
- Milk Thistle Seeds – St Mary’s Thistle Herb Seed
- How To Grow Milk Thistle
- How To Harvest Milk Thistle
- 7 Benefits of Milk Thistle
- How to Use Milk Thistle
- Recent Milk Thistle Information
- Food & Tea Varieties
- Capsule/Tablet form
- Powder/ Protein Supplement Blend
- Liquid Extract
- Benefits of the Different Forms
- What Is Milk Thistle?
- Top 6 Benefits
- Milk Thistle Tea
- Supplement Dosage
- Risks, Side Effects and Interactions
- Marvelous Milk Thistle Seeds for Planting, How to Grow and Care for It
- Growing Milk Thistle, How to Grow and Harvest Milk Thistle Seeds
- What is Milk Thistle Used For?
- Planting / Growing Milk Thistle Seeds
- Ongoing Care
- How do I harvest Thistle?
- Weeds of Australia – Biosecurity Queensland Edition Fact Sheet
- Scientific Name
- Common Names
- Naturalised Distribution
- Distinguishing Features
- Stems and Leaves
- Flowers and Fruit
- Reproduction and Dispersal
- Environmental Impact
- Similar Species
- Milk thistle
- General use
- Side effects
- Milk Thistle Health Benefits
Silybum Milk Thistle Info: Tips For Planting Milk Thistle In Gardens
Milk thistle (also called silybum milk thistle) is a tricky plant. Prized for its medicinal properties, it is also considered highly invasive and is being targeted for eradication in some areas. Keep reading for information about planting milk thistle in gardens, as well as combating milk thistle invasiveness.
Silybum Milk Thistle Info
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) contains silymarin, a chemical component known to improve liver health, earning the plant its status as a “liver tonic.” If you want to produce your own silymarin, milk thistle growing conditions are very forgiving. Here are some tips for planting milk thistle in gardens:
You can grow milk thistle in gardens with most types of soil, even soil that is very poor. As milk thistle is often considered a weed itself, virtually no weed control is needed. Plant your seeds ¼ inch deep just after the last frost in a spot that receives full sun.
Harvest the flower heads just as the flowers start to dry and a white pappus tuft (like on a dandelion) begins to form in its place. Place the flower heads in a paper bag in a dry place for a week to continue the drying process.
Once the seeds are dried, hack at the bag to separate them from the flower head. The seeds can be stored in an air-tight container.
Milk Thistle Invasiveness
While safe for humans to eat, milk thistle is considered toxic to livestock, which is bad, as it often grows in pastures and is hard to get rid of. It is also not native to North America and considered highly invasive.
A single plant can produce over 6,000 seeds that can remain viable for 9 years and germinate at any temperature between 32 F. and 86 F. (0 C. and 30 C.). Seeds can also be caught in the wind and carried easily on clothes and shoes, spreading it to neighboring land.
For this reason, you should really think twice before planting milk thistle in your garden, and check with your local government to see if it is even legal.
Milk Thistle Seeds – St Mary’s Thistle Herb Seed
USDA Zones: 5 – 10
Height: 40 – 55 inches
Bloom Season: Late spring to mid summer
Bloom Color: Pink
Environment: Full sun
Soil Type: Grows in any type of soil, pH 6.6 – 7.8
Temperature: 55 – 70F
Average Germ Time: 7 – 14 days
Light Required: Yes
Depth: 1/4 – 1/2 inch
Sowing Rate: 1 – 2 seeds per plant
Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination
Plant Spacing: 24 – 36 inches
Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum) – Milk Thistle seeds grow easily and produce a hardy biennial that is native to the Mediterranean area and has naturalized throughout North America. It is very impressive as an ornamental herb plant. It is tall and stately with large, mottled, spiny foliage that contains a milky sap-like substance and large, thistle-like heads of rose-pink flowers. Milk Thistle herb plants do re-seed themselves, so it is recommended to deadhead the flowers before they set seed. Other common names for this herb plant are Mediterranean Milk Thistle, Marian Thistle, St Mary’s Thistle and Holy Thistle.
Milk Thistle is a well-known medicinal herb with a long history of use in the treatment of liver and gallbladder ailments. It is the Milk Thistle seeds that are used medicinally, and they contain silymarin which is a flavonoid. The Milk Thistle herb may have a protective and regenerative effect on liver cells. As a nutritional supplement to support liver function, the seeds can be ground and added to hot cereals or other whole grain dishes.
How To Grow Milk Thistle From Herb Seeds: Grow Milk Thistle seeds directly in the herb garden. Prepare a seedbed and sow the herb seeds in the spring when temperatures have warmed. The Milk Thistle plants prefer full sun, but they are not picky about soils. They are also tolerant of dry and wet soils.
Milk thistle is an herb that’s been used for over 2,000 years as a natural remedy for a wide variety of ailments, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides was the first to describe its healing properties back in 40 A.D.
While it’s native to the Mediterranean region, today, it’s mostly grown in California, although it can be grown in many other parts of the world with a warm, dry climate. Milk thistle gets its name from the milky white sap that comes from the leaves when they’re crushed. It is often turned into an extract or supplement form so that users can enjoy its many benefits.
Most people actually consider milk thistle a pesky weed because it can grow tall and thorny, making it hard to even get near, but its medicinal benefits make it well worth keeping around.
As it’s considered to be a hepatic, galactagogue, demulcent and cholagogue herb, it has the ability to promote healthy digestive functioning by aiding enzyme formation, increasing bile production, reducing inflammation and soothing mucous membranes throughout the body.
Known for centuries as a “liver tonic”, this herb is high in a chemical compound known as silymarin, the active agent in its liver-protective abilities. Silymarin is actually a group of flavonoids that are thought to help repair liver cells that are damaged by toxic substances. It also protects new liver cells from being destroyed by those same toxins. Milk thistle has also been reported to greatly improve the overall functioning of the liver and is often used to reduce cirrhosis of the liver, chronic liver inflammation, damage done to the liver by alcohol and other intoxicants.
How To Grow Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is obviously a great herb to have around, and it’s fairly easy to grow. It grows to 3 – 4 feet tall, and features glossy, milky-white veined leaves and showy, purple summer flowers. All parts of the plant are edible, though its seeds are what contain that beneficial silymarin compound.
To grow your own, you’ll want to plant your seeds just after the last frost of spring. Sow them at a very shallow depth of about one-eighth of an inch, planting in groups of 3 to 4 seeds, spaced 30 to 36 inches apart.
The plants do well in both sunny and lightly shaded areas of a garden and will tolerate any type of soil, and even drought. If you want to start your milk thistle indoors, do so about two months before they’re due to be transplanted outdoors, also just after the last spring frost. It will take about three weeks before the plants start to germinate at a temperature of around 54 degrees to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re so easy to care for as they can tolerate dry and wet soil, so mostly, you can just leave them be and they’ll thrive. If they do become too weedy, deadhead the flowers before they set seed. The milk thistle flower contains as many as 190 seeds, with an average of 6,350 seeds per plant, and about 90 percent remain viable after harvest. If left untended, the seed heads will break on their own, making harvest impossible. If you plan to collect the seeds, do so before the plants fully mature.
How To Harvest Milk Thistle
Due to the thorny nature of milk thistle, putting on a pair of thick gardening gloves is a must before touching them. The leaves are extremely prickly, and the spines can easily penetrate the skin. You’ll know when they’re ready to harvest by watching for the flowers to begin drying out and produce silvery-white seed heads known as pappus. While the plants often mature at different times, seed production typically starts in the fall.
- When the milk thistle blossoms are dry, cut them off the plant from the base of the flower head.
- Place the flower heads into a paper bag, and then set the bag in a warm location to allow them to completely dry, which generally takes five to seven days.
- When the flower heads have thoroughly dried, place them into a burlap sack. To separate the seed, first shake the bag well and then press down on the flower heads with your hands to further separate them.
- Place a bucket on the ground outside, and then pour the seeds from the burlap sack into the bucket. While you’re pouring them in, the unwanted chaff should blow away, but if any ends up in the bucket, just pick it out and discard it.
- Store the milk thistle seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to use them.
7 Benefits of Milk Thistle
Now to get to the best part, what benefits can you reap after you’ve grown your milk thistle?
1. Liver support
Protecting and supporting the liver is milk thistle’s most well-known benefit. The liver is our largest internal organ and it’s responsible for performing a number of essential functions. It’s constantly working hard to help defend us from the many toxins in the air that we breathe, the medications we take and the food and drink we consume, acting like a filter to remove harmful substances from the body. It also aids hormone production, releases glucose into the bloodstream so that we have a steady stream of energy, detoxifies the body and releases bile into the small intestine so that fat can be absorbed from foods.
Milk thistle helps take some of that heavy load off the liver. It helps to rebuild the liver cells while effectively reversing the harmful effects of things like the pesticides in our food, heavy metals in water, pollution in the air and alcohol or drug consumption. It’s even been scientifically approved as a treatment for a host of different liver diseases like fatty liver syndrome, as well as psoriasis, jaundice, hepatitis, damage from alcoholism and more.
2. Kidney health
The benefits of milk thistle on the kidneys have been reported to “closely mirror the herb’s effects on the liver.” It’s also said to have promise for stimulating cell regeneration in the kidneys, and may even be useful for patients who are on dialysis.
3. Lowering high cholesterol
Milk thistle, as mentioned, contains potent anti-inflammatory properties which can halt inflammation in its tracks – inflammation is one of the primary causes of heart disease. This beneficial herb supports heart health by lowering high cholesterol levels and raising “good” or HDL cholesterol, as well as reducing inflammation and preventing oxidative stress damage to the arteries. Research conducted in 2006 showed that when the extract silymarin was taken from milk thistle and used in combination with traditional treatments, total cholesterol as well as LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, and trigylceride levels all improved, compared to participants cholesterol levels before taking the extract.
4. Preventing or controlling diabetes
Among those with diabetes, in this 2006 study, those who took silymarin for four months were found to have experienced glycemic profile improvements which included a dramatic reduction in glycosylated hemoglobin, which is a measure of blood sugar average over the prior three months, as well as reducing fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides, as compared to those who took a placebo.
It makes sense, as the liver is partially responsible for regulating the hormones, including the release of insulin, which is responsible for managing blood sugar levels. This research, coupled with the fact that the National Institute of Health notes that taking the main chemical in milk thistle silymarin, along with traditional treatments, can help control symptoms of diabetes by adding glycemic control, offers a rather compelling reason to do so.
5. Preventing gallstones
Gallstones affect at least 20 million people every year, and while it’s possible to have them and not know it, severe cases can even lead to rupturing of the gallbladder, and ultimately, death. When an attack occurs, the crippling pain can last from several minutes to a few hours or more. The pain usually starts in the abdomen and radiates to the chest, the back, and between the shoulder blades and may be accompanied by gas, heartburn, and indigestion.
As the liver and other digestive organs such as the kidneys, intestines, pancreas and gallstones work closely together, milk thistle is also known for its ability to prevent gallstones. Its benefits support both the gastrointestinal and endocrine systems by helping the production of enzymes and bile while also helping to detoxify the blood. Milk thistle can aid in purifying the body of metabolic waste, which in turns regulates the functioning of the gallbladder, as well as the spleen and kidneys.
Scientists out of the NYU Langone Medical Center reported that this beneficial herb lowers the risk of gallstones by stimulating more gallbladder contractions.
6. Better skin
The anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, demulcent and antioxidant properties of milk thistle can also help improve the condition of your skin, and even make it look younger. It can reduce visible signs of aging both inside and out, helping to prevent damage like dark spots, lines, wrinkles and discoloration. Research has shown that phytochemicals, such as those that are contained in silymarin, are effective at inhibiting UV light-induced oxidative stress on the skin, which is known to cause serious problems like skin cancer.
Studies have also suggested that applying silymarin to the skin reduces the damage caused by radiation treatment in those who’ve had cancer treatments. In one experiment conducted on mice at the University of Alabama Birmingham’s Department of Dermatology, compared to the effects of strong UV light exposure on the skin of mice. The animals who received milk thistle extract showed much less damage compared to mice who didn’t receive milk thistle.
As we mentioned, milk thistle also offers anti-aging effects to the inside of the body, as its powerful antioxidants help to prevent free radical damage, removing toxic pollutants and waste from the blood and digestive tract. It also reduces the risk for many common and serious disorders that can come with aging, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney and liver damage, prematurely aged skin, vision problems and cancer.
How to Use Milk Thistle
With all of these benefits, there’s no doubt you’ll want to grow your own – but, once you do, how is it used?
As a tea. One of the most common ways to take advantage of milk thistle is as a tea. If you want to start using it before your plants are ready for harvest, you can purchase it as a tea. Some local co-ops and health foods stores sell the leaves and seeds that you can steep in hot, almost boiling, water and make your own tea as well.
When you grow your own, you can simply crush the seeds and leaves to make a tea. Just place them into a muslin bag and then steep the bag in hot water for 5 minutes. Raw honey can be added for flavor.
Powdered. You can crush the seeds into a powder that can be sprinkled onto a salad, into a soup, or over a burger.
Salad ingredients. When you grow your own, you can take advantage of just about every part of the milk thistle plant by using it in a salad. Add the stalks, flowers, leaves and even the roots. They’re also great cooked in many dishes.
Add it to a smoothie. Milk thistle is great for use in a smoothie. Just ground up some milk thistle seeds and soak them in water overnight. Add a bit of lemon juice and chopped lycium berries and toss the mixture into your blender.
Eat them dry as a snack. The seeds can even be eaten dry, as is, for a nutritious snack. They’ll last longer and retain their nutrients if you store them in the freezer.
Recent Milk Thistle Information
Milk thistle seed is used to treat and prevent liver problems. Silybum mariunum is the only species of milk thistle that has prven to be therapeutic, yet there are a number of supplements available for consumption. There have been a number of testing, clinical studies, and research done on milk thistle supplements. Some of the research and clinical studies have shown that the supplements can be useful in treating: cirrhosis, food poisoning, and hepatitis. Depending on the type of treatment you are using the supplements for, there are a variety of options to choose from. These are some of the most common forms of milk thistle.
Food & Tea Varieties
Dried milk thistle seeds are generally used to produce teas, and can be easily ground and used in different food dishes. The dried seeds which are used to produce tea, or to be used for different dishes are commonly used to help enhance liver regeneration, after toxic chemicals were ingested or the individual was exposed to toxic elements, other poisons, or to high doses of radiation. Although the dried seeds aren’t the preferred method for treating liver conditions, they are potent enough to treat toxicity, and contact with other harsh chemicals.
Companies also produce capsules of dried milk thistle, which are standardized, and contain a specific level of silymarin. Depending on the dosage of silymarin in each capsule, the uses may vary for each individual. When sold in tablet form, the dosage is usually not standardized, as is the case with capsules sold by manufacturers.
Supplement form –
Milk thistle is often combined with other supplements or herbs, which are also beneficial to the liver. By increasing dosage, and incorporating other herbs which are beneficial, this can make these combined supplements more beneficial for treating certain liver conditions, protecting the liver, or helping eliminate toxins from the liver.
Powder/ Protein Supplement Blend
Just like protein powders, you can also purchase milk thistle powders which can be mixed as a shake, or mixed directly with water for consumption. The dosage per scoop will vary, depending on who the manufacturer is. This form of milk thistle, like a liquid extract, is more easily absorbed in to the bloodstream, and easily assimilated by the body. They typically help cleanse, purify, and repair the liver. Liver cell health is also promoted with continued use of the powder form.
Milk thistle can also be taken as a liquid; the main benefit of doing this is that it goes directly in to the bloodstream and does not require a certain period to pass through the digestive tract, prior to providing certain benefits once ingested.
Benefits of the Different Forms
The benefits with most forms of milk thistle are fairly similar. All are intended to help reduce toxicity build up, help promote healthy cell growth and production, and with continued use, milk thistle has been found to help reduce or reverse certain forms of liver damage. But, some forms are more potent than others. Namely the liquid forms and extracts and powders, as they pass through the bloodstream directly. This means they will be digested a little quicker in your system, and you will feel the benefits immediately.
With capsules, you receive the benefit that the dosage is controlled, and you will receive the recommended daily dosage when consuming the milk thistle; this is not the case with tablets, as companies are not required to provide a specific dosage when producing capsules. Further, with tea, herbalists suggest against making milk thistle in this form, since the constituents do not blend well in hot water, meaning it is not as potent as other methods of consumption.
All forms of milk thistle are intended to produce the same benefits. They are meant to help with cleansing, help eliminate toxicity, and help to reduce or reverse certain liver conditions one might be suffering from, with continued use. But, like every other supplement or medication, some forms of the milk thistle are more potent than others. If you want quick acting, immediate results, it is best to look for liquid extracts or powder blends, for immediate consumption in to the bloodstream. These forms will work faster, and users will realize the benefits far sooner than the other forms of milk thistle available for consumption.
Milk thistle is a natural herb with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s commonly used to detoxify the body and promote liver and gallbladder health.
Also known by its scientific name, Silybum marianum, milk thistle grows mostly in California, although it can be grown in many other warm climates as well.
As an herb that’s considered a “hepatic, galactogogue, demulcent and cholagogue,” milk thistle is considered one of the most common natural supplements for liver disorders in the U.S., thanks to its many health benefits.
Other benefits include promoting healthy digestive function, increasing bile production, decreasing inflammation and soothing the mucous membranes throughout the body.
What Is Milk Thistle?
The milk thistle plant is a popular herb that has actually been used for over 2,000 years. In fact, Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides was the first to describe milk thistle’s healing properties back in the year 40 A.D.
The plant is native to the Mediterranean region and a member of the Asteraceae plant family, which also includes other plants like sunflowers and daisies.
This healing herb gets its name from the milky-white liquid that runs off of the plant’s leaves when they’re crushed. The actual leaves of the plant also have a spotted white pattern that makes them look as if they’ve been dunked in milk. It’s also known as St. Mary’s thistle, holy thistle and silybum.
Milk thistle is commonly used for everything from weight loss to skin health to promoting breast milk production. However, while there are many different potential benefits, it is most well-known for being a natural liver supporter and is sometimes used to help treat liver diseases such as cirrhosis, jaundice and hepatitis, as well as gallbladder problems.
It’s also often used to increase breast milk production, with one study showing that certain extracts in milk thistle could increase daily milk production by up to 86 percent.
There are a variety of milk thistle products available, and the seeds and leaves of the milk thistle plant can be consumed either in pill, powder, tincture, extract or tea form.
The seeds can actually be eaten completely raw, too, but usually people prefer to take a milk thistle extract or supplement in order to consume a higher dose and see greater results.
Top 6 Benefits
1. Liver Detoxification and Health
As a liver support and liver aid, milk thistle acts as a powerful liver cleanser by rebuilding liver cells, reducing liver damage and removing toxins from the body that are processed through the liver.
Milk thistle is effective at naturally reversing toxicity in the body, including the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, pesticides in our food supply, heavy metals in our water supply and pollution in the air that we breathe.
The liver is actually our largest internal organ and is responsible for performing a number of essential detoxifying functions. The condition of our blood throughout our whole body is mostly reliant on the health of our liver.
The liver helps remove toxicity and harmful substances from our blood, aids in hormone production, detoxifies the body, releases sugar into the bloodstream in order to give our body steady energy and secretes bile into our small intestine so fat can be absorbed from foods. You can see why liver problems and poor liver function can create so many problems!
Milk thistle has been historically used for a variety of liver diseases, including:
- alcoholic liver disease
- acute and chronic viral hepatitis
- toxin-induced liver diseases
2. May Help Protect Against Cancer
Milk thistle seed is a great source of the antioxidant flavonoid called silymarin, which is actually composed of several other active compounds known as flavolignans.
Silymarin may help reduce the risk for cancer development (including breast cancer) by boosting the immune system, fighting DNA damage and reversing cancerous tumor growth. In addition to blocking breast cancer, test-tube and animal studies show that silmarin may also protect against several other types of cancer as well, including lung cancer and prostate cancer.
In 2007, after reviewing numerous studies involving milk thistle therapeutic treatments, researchers at the University of Minnesota reported:
There is strong preclinical evidence for silymarin’s hepatoprotective and anticarcinogenic effects, including inhibition of cancer cell growth in human prostate, skin, breast, and cervical cells.
About 50 percent to 70 percent of the silymarin molecules present within milk thistle are the type called silybin, also known as silibinin.
This antioxidant stimulates protein synthesis and changes the outside layer of healthy cells, keeping them protected from damage and mutation. It also inhibits toxins from dwelling in the body, helps with cell renewal and counteracts the harmful effects of pollutants, chemicals and heavy metals that can cause free radical damage.
Silymarin acts as a cancer protector by blocking the binding of toxins to the cell membrane receptors, according to researchers at the University Magna Graecia Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine.
3. May Help Lower High Cholesterol
Milk thistle benefits heart health and helps lower high cholesterol levels by reducing inflammation, cleaning the blood and preventing oxidative stress damage within the arteries.
Although more formal research is still needed, preliminary studies show that when silymarin is used in combination with other traditional treatment methods, it can improve levels of total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Something important to keep in mind, however, is that existing studies on possible heart benefits of milk thistle have only been done involving people with diabetes, who tend to have high cholesterol levels.
Therefore, at this time, it’s unclear if milk thistle has the same effects in people without diabetes and if it will be used to naturally lower cholesterol levels in the future.
4. May Help Control or Prevent Diabetes
According to the National Institute of Health, there’s some compelling research that shows that taking silymarin, the main chemical found in milk thistle, along with conventional treatments, can help control symptoms of type 2 diabetes by promoting better blood sugar control.
The valuable antioxidants found in milk thistle have been reported in experimental and clinical studies to help decrease blood sugar levels in people with insulin resistance.
One 2006 study conducted by the Department of Pharmacology at the Institute of Medicinal Plants found that when diabetic patients were given silymarin extract over a four-month period, their fasting blood sugar and insulin levels improved significantly compared to patients receiving a placebo.
This is likely true because the liver is partially responsible for regulating hormones, including the release of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is responsible for managing blood sugar levels in the blood, which is especially important for those with diabetes.
Related: Your Diabetic Diet Plan (A Guide for What to Eat with Diabetes)
5. May Help Prevent Gallstones
The liver is a major digestive organ, which helps process nutrients and toxins that enter our body through foods, water and air.
Because the liver and other digestive organs, like the gallbladder, pancreas, intestines and kidneys, work closely together to improve liver health, milk thistle is also able to help prevent gallstones and kidney stones.
Although research on this topic is limited, because of milk thistle’s ability to increase bile flow, protect against liver conditions like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and promote liver detoxification, it may be useful in the prevention of gallstones.
Gallstones are formed when cholesterol and other matter within your bile bind together. This is problematic because they can become more solid and get lodged in the inner lining of your gallbladder.
6. Has Anti-Aging Effects
Thanks to the antioxidant content of milk thistle, the herb may actually help slow the aging process. This applies to both the surface of your skin and your organs, as antioxidants can protect your body from chronic disease.
Milk thistle’s protective qualities of the skin make it great for reducing visible signs of aging, so consuming milk thistle may be an easy way to prevent skin cancer and skin damage, such as acne, dark spots, wrinkles, lines and discoloration.
Although the research on this topic is limited to mostly animal studies, one trial published in Photochemistry and Photobiology found that silymarin protected the skin of mice from UV-induced oxidative stress and helped reduce inflammation.
The silymarin found in milk thistle can also protect against depletion of glutathione, which is a “master antioxidant” that’s extremely useful at helping prevent disease formation.
Glutathione’s biggest role is to help fight oxidative stress that leads to such diseases as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. It can help prevent damage to important cellular components caused by reactive oxygen species, such as free radicals.
Milk Thistle Tea
Instead of using a milk thistle supplement, can also try consuming it in tea form to maximize the potential health benefits.
In fact, many companies make milk thistle tea by steeping the leaves and seeds from the plant.
You can also grow your own milk thistle and make homemade tea if you’re up for harvesting the plants. Each small plant head contains about 190 seeds that can be used in various ways.
If you purchase or grow a milk thistle plant, cut off the entire head and hang the plant upside down for about one week to draw out the seeds.
You can then crush the seeds and steep them, along with the leaves, to make tea, eat them raw or dry them into powder form. Keep the seeds and leaves in the freezer to make them last longer and retain their powerful nutrients.
Because milk thistle is categorized as a supplement rather than a drug, it’s not subject to the same oversight and quality control from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that standard drugs are.
The amount of active ingredients can vary widely depending on the different preparation methods used and the brand. Currently, there are several different milk thistle tablets, capsules and softgels available on the market, all of which recommend different doses.
- Although there is no standardized milk thistle dosage at this time, most people do best consuming between 20–300 milligrams daily.
- If you’re taking milk thistle for the liver, the recommended daily intake of milk thistle is 150 milligrams, taken one to three times daily. This is a somewhat high dose that can act as a natural liver detox.
- For ongoing use and liver support, take 50 to 150 milligrams daily.
Look for a high-quality product that’s between 50–150 milligrams of pure milk thistle extract per capsule so you can adjust the amount you are taking depending on your needs.
If you’re wondering what supplement is best, make sure to look for a company that sells a highly potent extract labeled at least 80 percent pure milk thistle extract.
Risks, Side Effects and Interactions
Milk thistle is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, with very few cases of side effects reported.
The most common side effects aren’t serious and include gastrointestinal upset, such as a mild laxative effect. When taken within the recommended dose range, however, it is thought to be effective and mostly free of allergic reactions.
Milk thistle may interact with some medications, including allergy medicines, anti-anxiety drugs and blood thinners, among others. If you are taking any medications, speak with your health care provider to prevent any milk thistle interactions before starting supplementation.
It also has estrogenic effects, meaning that it mimics the effects of estrogen in the body. If you have hormone-sensitive conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis or ovarian cancer, you should consult with your doctor before starting supplementation.
Also note that antioxidants like those found in milk thistle have been shown to possibly interfere with the efficacy of some cancer chemotherapy drugs by protecting cancer cells from cell death.
Finally, keep in mind that, although many holistic practitioners recommend milk thistle for dogs to help promote liver health, it’s best to talk to your vet before starting supplementation to keep your furry friends safe.
- What is milk thistle? This powerful plant is native to the Mediterranean, but is used around the world as a natural remedy for a wide variety of different ailments.
- Human, test-tube and animal studies show that it may help promote liver health, protect against cancer, lower cholesterol levels, prevent type 2 diabetes, protect against gallstones and slow signs of aging.
- It can be consumed in tea, tincture, extract, pill or powder form, making it easy to incorporate into your daily diet.
- Dosage recommendations can range, but most advise taking anywhere between 20–300 milligrams daily.
- Although it’s generally safe, you should talk to your doctor before starting supplementation if you are taking any medications or experience side effects like digestive distress.
Marvelous Milk Thistle Seeds for Planting, How to Grow and Care for It
Growing Milk Thistle — Milk thistle is grown both as an ornamental flower and as an herbal remedy. These tips will teach you how to harvest milk thistle seeds in your own home garden, including information on the medicinal uses as well.
Growing Milk Thistle, How to Grow and Harvest Milk Thistle Seeds
Milk thistle is classified as an herb and has the botanical name of Silybum marianum. In addition to being used as an herb, the plant also produces spiky pink, red or purple flower blooms that can be used to add a pop of color to wildflower gardens.
What is Milk Thistle Used For?
Milk thistle has a white sap that oozes out when the stem or leaves are crushed. This sap contains an ingredient called silymarin which has many herbal benefits.
According to the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org) website, Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum) has been used for over 2000 years to treat illnesses such as liver and gallbladder problems, hepatitis and even as a cure for mushroom poisoning. In addition, it shows promise as a cancer treatment, although more studies are required.
This particular plant has tall stalks with irregular leaves and blooms in the heat of summer when many delicate flowers wilt and die. For this reason, milk thistle is best grown in areas where drought and heat-tolerant plants are required. It should be noted, however, that the plant is a heavy seeder that may invade lawns and other nearby areas.
- 5 Budget-Friendly Gardening Tips
- Our First Year Saving Vegetable Garden Seeds
- Gardening Tips for the Perfect Backyard
- Starting Seeds is Fun and Easy
- Seeds Love This Simple Indoor Greenhouse
- Bought A Few Packs of Seed Tape, Now I’m Making My Own
- Types of Pumpkins & Instructions for Planting Pumpkins Seeds
Planting / Growing Milk Thistle Seeds
When planting milk thistle outside, wait until the early summer months and then choose an area with full to partial sunlight and slightly dry soil conditions. The soil should be fertile loam and should be weeded to remove all other vegetation.
Loosen up the top 1 inch of soil with a rake and then spread the seeds on top of it evenly. Rake the area to cover the seeds barely with soil to keep them from blowing away.
Water the area until it is damp and then keep it moist until germination occurs. If growing milk thistle for herbal purposes, you can also plant it indoors.
Plant the seeds in seed trays filled with potting soil and cover them with a very light layer of soil. Place the tray in an area that stays at 60 degrees Fahrenheit and water the soil daily until germination occurs in two to three weeks. Once the plants are tall enough to handle, you can plant them outdoors if desired.
Growing milk thistle requires little care once the seedlings start to grow. Additional water is rarely required when planted outdoors but should be supplied if the leaves start to wilt. When growing milk thistle indoors, water them no more than once per week.
Maintain a clean planting space by weeding out other plant life on a weekly basis to prevent them from robbing the milk thistle of moisture.
How do I harvest Thistle?
How to Harvest Milk Thistle Seeds and Cutting Back Garden Plants
If you are growing milk thistle to add color to the garden, prune the top stems off of the plants as soon as the flowers start to deteriorate. This not only makes the garden look better, but it prevents the development of seeds which will disperse in the wind.
If you are intending to use milk thistle as an herbal remedy, do not prune it since most remedies use the seeds of the plant. Instead, wait until you see seed pods develop where the flowers were located and then cut the pods off to collect them.
Milk thistle is a dual-purpose plant that provides both color and healing. Learning how to growing milk thistle and how to harvest milk thistle seeds on your own, by following the above process, will get you started on the path to a flourishing herb garden.
Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.
References of Growing Milk Thistle, How to Grow and Harvest Milk Thistle Seeds
No ratings yet.
Please rate this
Milk thistle also contains wonderful anti-inflammatory properties; as such it is often used in inflamed skin conditions that correspond to liver stagnation. Furthermore, the seeds can improve the break-down and removal of fats from the system by stimulating bile production; this action also helps address constipation and keeps the body regular.
As a supportive ally for both the liver and the digestive system, milk thistle is truly a valuable addition to any home apothecary.
HOW TO USE:
Unlike most herbs, milk thistle seeds do not very extract well in water so don’t try to make a cup of tea out of them! Instead eat the fresh ground seeds, or get a good quality capsule. If using the seeds buy them whole and then grind them as needed (I use a coffee grinder to make them into a coarse powder). The seeds taste oily, sweet and bitter all at once — perhaps they are an acquired taste, but they are not unpleasant at all. Start with taking 1/2 to 1 tablespoon per day sprinkled on your food and see how it feels to you, adjusting the amount as you need.
If you like, you can also try mixing the ground seeds into honey, and take a spoonful of this mixture at a time.
Steph Zabel is an herbalist and educator based in Somerville, MA who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world. She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference. Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.
Weeds of Australia – Biosecurity Queensland Edition Fact Sheet
Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn.
Carduus marianus L.
Asteraceae (Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory)Compositae (South Australia)
blessed milk thistle, blessed milk-thistle, blessed milkthistle, blessed thistle, bull thistle, cabbage thistle, Gundagai thistle, gundy, holy thistle, lady’s thistle, Marian thistle, Mary’s thistle, Marythistle, milk thistle, our lady’s thistle, spotted milk thistle, spotted thistle, St. Mary’s milk thistle, St. Mary’s thistle, thistle, variegated artichoke, variegated thistle
Widely naturalised southern and eastern Australia (i.e. Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania, many parts of South Australia and south-western Western Australia). It is most common in the coastal and sub-coastal regions of New South Wales and southern Victoria, and is relatively common in south-eastern South Australia, south-eastern Queensland, Tasmania and south-western Western Australia. Also present in other parts these states and naturalised on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.
Widely naturalised overseas, including in other parts of Europe, tropical and southern Africa, New Zealand, North America (i.e. Canada and the USA), Central America and South America.
A weed of crops and cultivation, pastures, forestry plantations, roadsides, disturbed sites and waste areas in temperate, sub-tropical and sometimes also semi-arid regions.
An upright (i.e. erect) and short-lived (i.e. annual or biennial) herbaceous plant usually growing 90-180 cm tall, but occasionally reaching up to 3 m in height. This species forms a large basal rosette of leaves during the early stages of growth.
- an upright and short-lived thistle usually growing 90-180 cm tall.
- it forms a basal rosette of very large variegated leaves (25-60 long and 12-30 cm wide) at first.
- these leaves are variously lobed and armed with rigid yellowish-coloured spines (5-12 mm long) on their margins.
- its large purplish flower-heads (up to 13 cm across) are borne singly at the tips of the branches.
- these flower-heads possess several rows of large, stiff bracts (about 4 cm long) ending in large sharp spines.
- its relatively large mottled seeds (5-8 mm long) are topped with a tuft of numerous silky bristles (12-20 mm long).
Stems and Leaves
The branched stems are quite thick and are ribbed lengthwise (i.e. longitudinally). They are hairless (i.e. glabrous) or sparsely covered in cottony or downy hairs and do not have any spines or ‘wings’.
The leaves are arranged in a basal rosette at first, and later alternately along the stems. They are shiny and have a distinctive variegated appearance (i.e. mottled green and cream or whitish), particularly on the upper surfaces. The upper surfaces are sparsely hairy (i.e. puberulent), while the lower surfaces are more densely hairy (i.e. pubescent). Leaf margins are variously divided or lobed (i.e. pinnatifid), irregularly toothed or somewhat wavy (i.e. undulating) and armed with rigid yellowish-coloured spines (5-12 mm long). The rosette leaves are very large (25-60 cm long and 12-30 wide) and lance-shaped (i.e. lanceolate) or relatively broad (i.e. elliptic) with obvious stalks (i.e. petioles), while the stem leaves are much shorter, narrower, more rigid, triangular in shape and stem-clasping (i.e. they are sessile).
Flowers and Fruit
The large flower-heads (up to 13 cm across) are usually borne singly at the tips of the branches on stalks (i.e. peduncles) up to 30 cm long. They consist of numerous purplish or reddish-purple coloured florets surrounded by several rows of large, stiff bracts (4-5 cm long). The outer layers of bracts end in long sharp spreading spines. Flowering occurs mostly during spring and early summer (i.e. from September to January).
The seeds are yellowish-brown in colour, with black streaks that give them a mottled appearance, and have a yellow collar at the top (5-8 mm long and about 3 mm wide). They are somewhat flattened and topped with a tuft (i.e. pappus) of numerous whitish, silky, bristles (12-20 mm long) that easily become detached.
Reproduction and Dispersal
This species reproduces almost entirely by seeds that are equipped with a large ‘parachute’ of bristles that enhances dispersal by wind.
Seeds are also spread as a contaminant of agricultural produce (e.g. fodder and grain) and to a lesser extent by water, animals, vehicles, machinery and in mud.
While variegated thistle (Silybum marianum) is mainly a weed of crops, pastures, roadsides and disturbed areas, it is also regarded as an environmental weed of some importance in New South Wales and Victoria.
This species is declared under legislation in the following states and territories:
- Victoria: C7 – all reasonable steps must be taken to control the weed and prevent its spread (in the Glenelg, Corangamite, Port Phillip East, Goulburn, North East, West Gippsland and East Gippsland regions).
- South Australia: 3* – declared in Class 3k, a category for agricultural weeds. It is required to be controlled in part of the state only.
- Western Australia: P1 – the movement of this species or its seeds is prohibited (throughout the entire state), P2 – to be eradicated (throughout the majority of the state), P3 – a weed which cannot be eradicated in the short term, but must be kept under ‘control’ (in a minority of local authority areas), and P4 – it must be ‘contained’ (in the City of Albany, Bridgetown, Dardanup, Denmark, Donnybrook-Balingup, Manjimup and Plantagenet local authority areas). See the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food Declared Plant List at http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/ for more detailed information about which areas are covered by these declarations.
For information on the management of this species see the following resources:
- the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment Landcare Note on this species, which is available online at http://www.dse.vic.gov.au.
- the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water weed service sheet on this species, which is available online at http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au.
- the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food information page on this species, online at http://www.agric.wa.gov.au.
Variegated thistle (Silybum marianum) is relatively similar to several introduced thistles including artichoke thistle (Cynara cardunculus), Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium), Illyrian thistle (Onopordum illyricum), nodding thistle (Carduus nutans subsp. nutans), spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare), perennial thistle (Cirsium arvense) and the slender thistles (Carduus pycnocephalus and Carduus tenuiflorus). These species can be distinguished by the following differences:
- variegated thistle (Silybum marianum) has ‘wingless’ stems and variegated leaves. Its very large flower-heads (up to 13 cm across including the spines) have very large spines.
- artichoke thistle (Cynara cardunculus) has ‘wingless’ stems and greyish-green leaves. Its very large flower-heads (up to 13 cm across including the spines) have very large spines.
- Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) has ‘winged’ stems and bluish-grey coloured (glaucous) leaves. Its moderately large flower-heads (2-6 cm across) have relatively small spines.
- Illyrian thistle (Onopordum illyricum) has ‘winged’ stems and whitish coloured leaves. Its moderately large flower-heads (up to 8 cm across) have relatively small downward-pointing (reflexed) spines.
- nodding thistle (Carduus nutans subsp. nutans) has ‘winged’ stems and greenish coloured leaves. Its moderately large flower-heads (4-8 cm across) ‘nod’ or droop distinctively as they mature and have purplish-coloured bracts that are tipped with relatively small spines.
- spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare) has ‘winged’ stems and greenish coloured leaves. Its moderately large flower-heads (3-5 cm across) have relatively small spines.
- perennial thistle (Cirsium arvense) has ‘wingless’ stems and greenish coloured leaves. Its small and slender flower-heads (0.8-2.5 cm across) have very short, purple-tipped spines.
- the slender thistles (Carduus pycnocephalus and Carduus tenuiflorus) have ‘winged’ stems and greenish coloured leaves. Its small and slender flower-heads (0.7-1.5 cm across) have relatively small spines.
Fact sheets are available from Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) service centres and our Customer Service Centre (telephone 13 25 23). Check our website at www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au to ensure you have the latest version of this fact sheet. The control methods referred to in this fact sheet should be used in accordance with the restrictions (federal and state legislation, and local government laws) directly or indirectly related to each control method. These restrictions may prevent the use of one or more of the methods referred to, depending on individual circumstances. While every care is taken to ensure the accuracy of this information, DEEDI does not invite reliance upon it, nor accept responsibility for any loss or damage caused by actions based on it.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum or Cardus marianum ) is a plant used for treating liver disorders, breast-feeding problems , and other illnesses. The active ingredient of the herb, silymarin, is found in the ripe seeds of the plant. The milk thistle plant has a long stem, green leaves with white spots, and pink to purple spiky flowered head (which true to its name, resembles a thistle). The plant is native to Europe and grows in the wild in the United States and South America. Other common names for the plant include Mary thistle, St. Mary thistle, Marian thistle, and lady’s thistle.
The medicinal benefits of milk thistle have been valued for more than 2,000 years. Written records show that as early as the first century, Romans were using the plant as a liver-protecting agent. The plant was also frequently used throughout the Middle Ages, and it is in the herbal literature of this period that the medicinal properties of milk thistle seeds are first noted. Nicholas Culpepper, a British herbalist, wrote about the value of the herb in treating diseases of the liver and spleen in the late eighteenth century, and by the end of the next century, records show that American physicians were also prescribing the substance. Silymarin was first isolated from the milk thistle plant by German scientists in the 1960s.
The leaves and stem of the milk thistle plant are edible, and can be used in salads or eaten raw. The plant was cultivated as a vegetable in Europe through the end of the nineteenth century.
Milk thistle is prescribed for a number of medicinal uses, including liver disease treatment and prevention, HIV treatment, lactation problems, gallbladder disorders, mushroom poisoning, and psoriasis , a chronic skin disease characterized by reddish patches.
Milk thistle is thought to promote the growth of new liver cells, and to prevent toxins from penetrating through healthy liver cells by binding itself to the cell membranes. It is prescribed for cirrhosis, hepatitis , and other liver disorders. Several clinical studies have demonstrated that individuals with cirrhosis who take daily doses of milk thistle extract have a lower mortality rate than those who took a placebo (or sugar pill). While further research needs to be completed, a 2001 article reports that clinical trials show that milk thistle (at 140 mg three times per day) did indeed improve survival among cirrhosis patients.
In addition, milk thistle may have a protective effect on the liver, and is sometimes prescribed for patients who take medications that can cause liver damage (e.g., Thorazine, Haldol), or those who are exposed to liverdamaging substances such as lead. A large, controlled trial sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institutes of health (NIH) of milk thistle’s medicinal value in the treatment of hepatitis and liver injury was scheduled to begin in the year 2000.
Milk thistle is sometimes prescribed for HIV-positive patients to protect the liver from diseases such as hepatitis and from the hepatotoxic effects of other medications prescribed for HIV treatment.
Milk thistle is frequently prescribed for breastfeeding mothers to promote increased breast milk secretion. Although the herb is considered safe for nursing mothers, it should be acquired from a reputable source and prescribed by an herbalist, naturopathic physician, or other healthcare professional familiar with its use.
The active chemical components of the milk thistle, silymarin (a complex of flavonoids) and its constituent, silibin, act as antioxidants . These substances have been shown to slow cell growth in some types of cancer .
Milk thistle may prevent inflammation of the gall-bladder ducts and clear up jaundice .
Death cap mushroom poisoning
Milk thistle is the only known antidote for death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides ) poisoning. Ingesting this deadly mushroom can destroy the liver by shutting down protein production in liver cells. Milk thistle neutralizes these toxins and protects the liver. Milk thistle may also be helpful in acetaminophen overdosage.
Because the liver neutralizes certain toxins associated with psoriasis attacks, milk thistle is believed to help prevent psoriasis outbreaks by promoting proper liver function.
Several other dermatological uses for the herb are currently under investigation. The antioxidant properties of the herb may have a healing effect on skin wounds and burns . Milk thistle has also been proposed as a cosmetic agent to retain skin tone and quality. Further studies are needed to prove the efficacy of the herb for these applications.
Milk thistle is available in seed form, in capsules, and in extracts and tinctures. A tincture is an herbal preparation made by diluting the herb in alcohol. Tinctures of milk thistle can be taken in 1 or 2 ml doses three times a day.
Milk thistle seed has a low level of water solubility, so infusions (or teas) made from the herb are weaker than milk thistle tinctures and extracts. An infusion of milk thistle can be prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of seeds that have been ground to a fine texture. After the mixture steeps for 10-20 minutes, the herb is strained out and the mixture can be drunk. Instead of straining, the herb can also be placed into an infuser ball, tea bag, or a piece of cheesecloth or muslin and removed after steeping. Individuals can drink two to three cups of the infusion daily.
Milk thistle seed can also be taken by mouth in a dose of 1 tsp of fresh ground seeds daily. The herb should always be stored in an airtight container in a cool location away from bright light to maintain its potency.
Individuals who suspect they have a liver disorder should always seek care from a healthcare professional.
Milk thistle should always be obtained from a reputable source that observes stringent quality control procedures and industry-accepted good manufacturing practices. Consumers should look for the designations “U.S.P.” (U.S. Pharmacopeia ) or “NF” (National Formulary ) on milk thistle labeling. Herbal preparations prepared under USP or NF guidelines meet nationally recognized strength, quality, purity, packaging, and labeling standards as recommended by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Botanical supplements are regulated by the FDA; however, they currently do not have to undergo any approval process before reaching the consumer market, and are classified as nutritional supplements rather than drugs. Legislation known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was passed in 1994 in an effort to standardize the manufacture, labeling, composition, and safety of botanicals and supplements, and in January 2000, the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) announced a 10-year plan for establishing and implementing these regulations by the year 2010.
Milk thistle is considered safe to use during pregnancy and in women who breastfeed. However, there are currently no long-term studies on use of the herb during pregnancy or lactation. A woman should speak with her healthcare practitioner before taking any herbs and/or medications during pregnancy.
Milk thistle may cause mild nausea and diarrhea , or loose stools. The herb may also cause an allergic reaction in some individuals, particularly those with known allergies to plants in the Asteraceae family (thistles, daisies, artichokes). No other widely reported side effects are known when milk thistle is taken in proper therapeutic dosages. However, people with chronic medical conditions should consult with their healthcare professionals before taking the herb.
There are no reported negative interactions between milk thistle and other medications and herbs, although certain drugs with the same therapeutic properties as milk thistle may enhance the effect of the herb. Again, individuals should consult their healthcare provider if they are taking other medications concurrently with milk thistle.
Medical Economics Corporation. The PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Corporation, 1998.
Hoffman, David. The Complete Illustrated Herbal. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1999.
Teresa G. Odle
Milk Thistle Health Benefits
During the 1980s, researchers learned that silymarin increases the ability of liver cells to regenerate through a vital bodily process known as protein synthesis. Additionally, laboratory and human research showed that silymarin counteracts the effects of poisons, even that from the deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides), the most virulent liver toxin known.
The Thistle’s Method
Few plant principles have been more extensively researched than silymarin. More than 300 laboratory and human trials have proven that there is strong scientific basis for believing that it can protect the liver from damage by toxins such as carbon tetrachloride and alcohol while showing no toxic effects against the human body. Such results have convinced German health officials to recognize silymarin as helpful in treating hepatitis, cirrhoisis, and other chronic inflammatory liver disorders.
Many studies have focused on the deathcap mushroom, whose species include those that contain phalloidine, the quickest-acting and most toxic of liver poisons. Phalloidine destroys the outer membrane of liver cells, a situation that can lead to death within three to seven days of ingestion. Another deathcap mushroom toxin, alpha-amanatine, penetrates the cell nucleus to block normal cell regeneration, resulting in the breakdown of the liver, entry of waste products into the bloodstream, and death after three to five days.
One early study (1983) of eighteen patients suffering from poisoning after eating deathcap mushrooms showed that silymarin, taken at a daily dose of 33 mg for every kilogram of body weight for 81.6 hours, prevented severe liver damage. Researchers concluded that silymarin is an effective remedy if administered within 48 hours after eating the mushrooms. Further studies indicated that silymarin works against phalloidine by occupying its binding sites so that it can’t destroy cell membranes, and works against alpha-amanatine by changing the outer cell membrane so the toxin can’t permeate it. Specifically, silymarin stimulates RNA polymerase A, which, in turn, enhances protein synthesis and liver cells’ ability to rebuild themselves, an effective defense against not only deathcap mushroom poisoning but also industrial chemical and alcohol-induced poisoning. A 1988 study, for example, focused on thirty workers who had been exposed to toluene and/or xylene vapors on the job for five to twenty years. All the workers had low blood platelet counts and abnormal liver function tests. After taking silymarin for thirty days, researchers reported, the workers all showed a significant improvement in liver function tests and blood platelet counts, although dosages weren’t specified in the study’s translation.
Further, some researchers have concluded that silymarin may be an effective preventive medicine. It offers valuable liver protection from exposure to alcohol, industrial chemicals, and psychopharmaceuticals because it speeds up the liver’s ability to return to normal. Additionally, the standardized seed preparations alter the cell structure of the outer liver membrane so toxins can’t enter the organ in the first place.
Trying For Precision
Researchers working primarily for phytopharmaceutical companies continue to aim for a precise understanding of how silymarin works. Among the pieces of the puzzle they have so far are, first, that silybin, one member of the group of compounds that make up silymarin, contains a steroid structure. Steroids enter cells to stimulate protein synthesis and cell regeneration, so silybin’s steroidal activity may be the mechanism by which silymarin works.
Additionally, researchers know that silymarin acts almost solely on the liver and kidneys, possibly because it moves in a rigid cycle from blood plasma to the liver bile and so is concentrated in liver cells. This cycle is difficult to break, one reason why some toxic substances are so destructive—they also concentrate in the liver. Toxins allow waste products to enter the bloodstream by impairing the liver’s ability to transform them into water-soluble compounds, which pass harmlessly from the body through the kidneys and urine. Silymarin, which moves along the same path but is both nontoxic and therapeutic, counteracts this destructive activity, making it one of the liver’s best allies.
Finally, research shows that silymarin is a powerful antioxidant that focuses its power directly on the liver, protecting it against cell-damaging free radicals.
Christopher Hobbs, a member of the Herbs for Health Editorial Advisory Board, is a fourth-generation herbalist and botanist who has been a consultant to the herb industry since 1985. A revised edition of his book, Milk Thistle: The Liver Herb (Botanica, 1995), is due out from Interweave this fall.