Milk Thistle is also known as Holy Thistle, Lady’s Thistle, Marian Thistle, Mary Thistle, Our Lady’s Thistle, St. Mary Thistle, Silybum and Silymarin.
Milk thistle (or St. Mary Thistle) fruit is one of the most encouraging traditional herbs to be handed down to modern scientific medicine. The milk thistle plant grows wild throughout much of Europe, being native to the Mediterranean and thriving in sunny locations. Milk thistle has distinctive white markings on its leaves, traditionally believed to be caused by the Virgin Mary’s milk (thus the name). The flower heads are picked while in full bloom in early summer (4).
The fruit and seed of the milk thistle plant are commonly applied to treating gallbladder and liver conditions (1), as a liver protectant, for treating hepatic cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis, and diseases of the spleen (3) (5) (6) (8).
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia has listed milk thistle fruit as having a liver protecting action (7). Thus this herb is used in conditions when the liver is under stress or when toxicity is present, such as times of infection, excess alcohol, or during periods of chemotherapy (4).
Milk thistle has been used for many centuries in Europe as a remedy for depression and liver problems (4). Historically milk thistle has also been used for treating malaria, uterine disorders and to stimulate menstruation (3).
Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Herbs lists both antioxidant and antiviral properties for milk thistle, as well as the liver protecting functions otherwise well established (9).
Studies in animals have shown that milk thistle can exert a protective effect on the liver against various toxins. Other studies and some human trials suggest that milk thistle can actually help the liver in regenerating and producing new liver cells (11). Thus this herb has been endorsed by German health authorities as a supporting treatment for inflammatory liver conditions and cirrhosis (2).
Other animal studies have demonstrated milk thistle’s power as an antioxidant and a liver protector (6) (10).
Milk thistle fruit is generally accepted as safe when consumed in moderate amounts. Due to the lack of reliable information regarding the use of milk thistle during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, it is recommended that you avoid using it during these times.
- Blumenthal M, et. al. ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council, 1998.
- Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Fourth Edition. New York: The Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.
- Jellin JM, Batz F, Hitchens K. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Third Edition. Stockton, California: Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2000.
- Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Revised Edition. Sydney, Australia: Dorling Kindersley. 2001.
- Gruenwald J, et.al. PDR for Herbal Medicines. First Edition. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., 1998.
- Barnes J, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD, Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. Second Edition. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 2002.
- British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (1996). Fourth Edition. British Herbal Medicine Association Scientific Committee, West Yorks, England.
- World Health Organization (WHO) (1999). Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants. Volume 2. WHO, Geneva.
- Duke JA, et. al. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Second Edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. 2002.
- Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy Phytochemistry Medicinal Plants. Second Edition as Translated by Caroline K. Hatton. Paris: Lavoisier Publishing, 1999..
- Bisset NG. ed. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Translated from Second Edition. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1994.