Milk Thistle

SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn.
Family: Compositae referred to in older texts as Carduus marianus. Recently changed to Carduus marianum.

COMMON NAME(S): Holy thistle,lady's thistle, marian thistle, Mary thistle, Milk thistle, St. Mary thistle, silybum.

Milk thistle ( Silybum marianum ) has been used since Greco-Roman times as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly liver problems.

Milk thistles active property silymarin, is being studied for it's ability of "liver cells to regenerate through a vital bodily process known as protein synthesis." Silymarin also "counteracts the effects of deadly poisons, even that from the deathcap mushroom (amanita phalloides), the most virulent liver toxin known".


Milk thistle was once grown in Europe as a vegetable. The despined leaves were used in salads; the stalks and root parts were also consumed, even the flower portion was eaten "artichoke-style." The roasted seeds were used as a coffee substitute. Various preparations of milk thistle have been used medicinally for more than 2000 years. Its use as a liver protectant can be traced back to Greek references. Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman writer, (A.D. 23 to 79) noted that the plant's juice was excellent for "carrying off bile". Culpeper (England's premier herbalist) noted milk thistle to be of use in removing obstructions of liver and spleen, and to be good against jaundice. The Eclectics (19th to 20th century) used milk thistle for varicose veins, menstrual difficulty, and congestion in liver, spleen, and kidneys.

In homeopathy, a tincture of the seeds has been used to treat liver disorders, jaundice, gall stones, peritonitis, hemorrhage, bronchitis, and varicose veins.

Botany :- This plant is indigenous to Kashmir, but is found in North America from Canada to Mexico. Milk thistle grows from approximately 1.5 to 3 m and has large prickly leaves. When broken, the leaves and stems exude a milky sap. The reddish purple flowers are ridged with sharp spines. The drug consists of the shiny mottled black or grey-toned seeds (fruit). These make up the "thistle" portion, along with its silvery pappus, which readily falls off.

Uses of Milk Thistle

Treatment or protection against liver damage, as in cirrhosis, Amanita mushroom poisoning, and hepatitis.

Side Effects of Milk Thistle

Few adverse effects have been seen other than brief gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances and mild allergic reactions; possible urticaria in one patient.


The suggested dose of milk thistle is generally 12 to 15 grams of dried herb (200 to 400 mg silymarin) per day or silymarin-phosphatidylcholine complex 100 to 200 mg two times per day. For liver protection, 120 mg silymarin (about 2 capsules) two times per day. For liver damage from alcohol, drugs, or chemicals, the recommended dosage of silymarin-phosphatidylcholine should be increased from two times per day to three times per day.

Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of milk thistle for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.


Human studies of silymarin have shown few adverse effects. Tolerability of silymarin is good; only brief disturbances of GI function and mild allergic reactions have been observed, but rarely enough to discontinue treatment.Mild laxative effects in isolated cases have been reported.A case of urticaria with a foreign commercial milk thistle preparation has been noted.

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