Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (Silybum Marianum), or holy thistle, is native to the Mediterranean region. A distant relative of the daisy, milk thistle is a flowering plant with a long stem and deep purple flowers. This flowering plant has been used for well over 2000 in the treatment of a variety of ails. Milk thistle is most commonly used to edify and purify the liver from toxins (occurring naturally and as a result of lifestyle choices). In addition, milk thistle is believed to be effective in:

Milk thistle is most easily identifiable by its “spikey” deep purple flowers that connect to a long snacking stem
  • Reducing liver and gallbladder inflammation
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Reducing the growth of cancerous cells in the breast, cervical and prostate
  • Managing blood pressure
  • Increasing the body’s acceptance of synthetic insulin in people who have type II diabetes


Milk thistle supplement in pill form; note that the active ingredient Silymarin is highlighted

Milk thistle, native to North Africa and the Mediterranean, is now found around the world. Naturally accustomed to warm sunny climates, the plant grows quickly reaching heights of almost 10 feet in a matter of months. Its fast reproductive cycle and tendency to “take over” its vicinity has led milk thistle to be considered a weed in many parts of the world. In addition to its purple flows, milk thistle is identified by its long curving stem and its full leaves.


Milk thistle supplements come in a variety of forms including tea, pills and tinctures
The name milk thistle originates from the liquid which resembles the look and constancy of milk when its leaves are crushed. Throughout history the leaves, stems, flowers and especially young shots of the plant were consumed as food. Today, most medicinal applications of milk thistle are produced from the flowers and/ or seeds of the plant. It is here that the active ingredient Silymarin is founded in the highest concentrations.


Milk thistle is believed to detoxify the human liver. While the science behind this assertion is scarce and inclusive, there exists some evidence to confirm that oral ingestion of milk thistle in either its natural form (for example leaves in a salad) or as a more potent supplement (in a pill, tea, or tincture) over a protracted period of time may improve liver function.

Milk thistle is often ingested by patients in the form of tea. Products such as the one above are comercially produced and can be found in healthfood stores nationwide.

Much of the scientific study of milk thistle has focused on its ability to purify the liver of people with a history of above average alcohol consumption. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, milk thistle has been shown to be effective detoxifying and stimulating mildly defective livers brought on by excessive alcohol consumption, however, information regarding more serve cases has proven inconclusive.

The purifying and detoxifying properties that milk thistle is thought to have is furthered by proponents as the probable basis for alleged success in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure. Milk thistle also is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and may function similarly to fish oil as a natural way to reduce cholesterol. Studies in these areas have focused on using highly potent supplements produced from the seeds and which are replete with high concentrations of Silymarin.


As scientific studies have not fully quantified effective levels of the herb for various ails, researchers are hesitant in proscribing high levels of the herb. Medications filtered through the liver are thought to interact negatively with milk thistle which seems to make sense since Silymarin is thought to work primarily in the liver.


All information is drawn from the sources enumerated below: