Scientific Name: Silybum marianum
Nature's liver protector
Milk Thistle is a popular ornamental and medicinal plant. It is a robust, thick stemmed thistle with a basal rosette of unique green and white marbled, deeply lobed leaves, of up to 60cm long. Milk Thistle will grow up to 1,5m in height, has needle sharp spines on all parts of the plant, and bears numerous purple florets in summer, followed by black seeds, each bearing a tuft of white hairs. Outside of herbal use it is considered a weed as it self-seeds readily. Milk Thistle is hardy, needs well-drained, alkaline soil and full sun. Slugs and snails may damage the leaves.
The whole plant — leaves, flower buds, seeds and roots. Seeds can be harvested once a flower head is dried. Spare a thought for the harvester, the spines of this thistle penetrate even the toughest gloves available! All parts of Milk Thistle are dried for use in infusions, tinctures and powders.
As a vegetable, young Milk Thistle leaves, flower buds and roots are harvested when tender and used fresh. Snip off the needle-like spines of the closed flower heads & boil like globe artichoke. Serve with butter, salt, black pepper and lemon juice. Peel and soak the roots and stalks to remove all bitterness, slice thinly and cook/stir-fry or boil in soups and stews. The leaves, with spines removed, can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach. Milk Thistle seeds can be roasted and ground and used as a coffee substitute. They are also quite sweet to chew as a snack.
Milk Thistle has been used over the ages as a remedy for poor liver function. From scientific evidence today we know indeed that Milk Thistle is a remarkable liver protector. Milk Thistle minimizes the side effects from cancer therapy and speeds up recovery once chemotherapy treatment is completed.
Milk Thistle restores the liver after liver and gall bladder disease, cirrhoses, infections, hepatitis, jaundice, and abuse - alcohol and drugs as well as coal tar drugs, namely painkillers, aspirin and codeine.
Milk Thistle counteracts poisoning — for example, the ingestion of highly toxic substances like paraffin. Milk Thistle seed contains unique flavolignans collectively called Silymarin, that prevent toxins from entering liver cells and it scavenges free radicals.
Milk Thistle stimulates liver repair by boosting protein synthesis. A therapy of Silybinin infusion from the Milk Thistle plant can halt the process of fatal mushroom poisoning, if given within 48 hours. It re-activates protein synthesis in the liver that is normally blocked by mushroom toxins. Silymarin is just as effective when given to animals affected by Amanita Phalloides (death cap), a fungus that causes irreversible liver damage, and for other chemical poisoning — but the therapy should start immediately and continue for 48 hours.
Milk Thistle is a bitter digestive and diuretic tonic herb. It stimulates bile flow. It increases lactating mother's milk flow production and relaxes spasms.
Method of administration: Capsules or pills of powdered herb or seed are freely available at herbal or medicinal shops. A tea made from Milk Thistle leaves, dried or fresh, or from fresh flowers can be taken as a tonic. Consult an experienced herbalist for a suitable regime.
I would like to recommend the following method of the herbal tea infusion as written by Margie Frayne in her book Help yourself to Health — A guide for home health using healing herbs and good nutrition, 2005:
1 Milk Thistle flower, roughly chopped
1 cup boiling water
Place the herb in a container with a lid. Pour the boiling (just of the boil) water over the herb. Cover and stand for 5-15 minutes. Strain. Add sugar or honey if necessary. Use as a drink, taking 1 cup daily — or in chronic conditions, 1 cup every alternative day. Take it hot or cold (per advice of the doctor or herbalist).
Make enough for one day only. Do not stand overnight to use the next day. This method of making an infusion can be used to make a tea from the areal parts of a herb (leaf; flower; stem) or a mixture of these, but not when using the roots of a herb.