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Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle is a very old medicinal plant. In important medieval medical books such as Matthiolus' Book of Herbs of 1626, it is recommended ‘for side stitches which accompany jaundice’.


Health Benefits

Milk Thistle is probably the most powerful herb for liver detoxification.

  • It relieves dyspepsia
  • Acts as a protective agent for the liver, even helping to regenerate liver cells in cases of cirrhosis and hepatitis.
  • Milk Thistle is also recommended to treat mushroom poisoning by death cap (Amanita phalloides).
  • It is used to treat liver complaints from loss of appetite to chronic inflammatory conditions.
  • Its main constituents are flavolignans (silybin, isosilybin, silychristin and silydianin) collectively known as silymarin. (See Milk Thistle information sheet)

The German Commission E acknowledges its benefits in cases of: dyspeptic complaints; toxic liver damage; supportive treatment in chronic inflammatory liver disease and hepatic cirrhosis.

Botanical characteristics

Milk Thistle is an annual or biennial plant growing up to 1.5 metres in height. Its conspicuous glossy green leaves are white-veined, sinuate-lobed with thorny teeth at the edges. Tufts of red-violet tubular flowers sit on the apically branching stalks in bent-back, thorny husk leaves. The hard-shelled, light to dark brown, egg-shaped fruits bear silken, white, tufts of hair that fall off easily. Milk Thistle flowers from June to September. Milk Thistle was formerly classified in the family of the Dipsacacaea, genus Carduus. The more recent botanic system puts it in the Compositae family.  


The herb itself and its dried seeds, released from the pappus, are used medicinally. The fruits are harvested in August or September, just before becoming fully ripe. Once ripened, the seeds are threshed. A.Vogel/Bioforce produces a maceration from the whole fruits. This method ensures that the silymarin contained in the shell of the fruit, is extracted without losing the fruit's fatty oil. Tea preparations from the whole fruits, which must infuse for at least 10 minutes, are rarely used. In France, the young leaves, unopened flower heads, and tap root are a very popular delicacy.

Fun facts about Thistle

  • The thistle is known by it’s prickly touch. The thistle flower grows this spiny leaves to protect itself from being eaten by nimals.
  • Back in the 13th century, Vickings tried to creep in on Scottish clansmen, only to walk barefoot over thistles. This caused them to cry out, alerting the Scottish army.
  • The thistle has gotten a bad reputation as weed due to it’s ability to reproduce across fields. In fact one musk thistle is capable of producing up to 120,000 seeds.
  • Edible thistle such as the bull thistle can be roasted and eaten.
  • The seeds can also be used for producing oil and native Americans used to chew on the petals like chewing gum.

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