Milk Thistle

      Disclaimer: This information is in no way intended to be a substitute for modern medical care. Do not self-treat any medical complaint without the guidance of a licensed health care provider.

      According to legend, as Mary was nursing the infant Jesus, some of her milk fell onto thistle leaves, and the plant assumed a white mottling on its foliage to honor her, a belief that clearly manifests how prized milk thistle was as a medicinal plant. An exceptionally safe herb, milk thistle, Carduus Marianus (not to be confused with Holy Thistle, Centaurea benedicta), stimulates good breast-milk production and promotes healthy liver gallbladder function.

      Today, it is primarily the seeds that are used medicinally. They have such a powerfully protective and regenerative effect on liver cells that their main constituent, silymarin, is used to treat poisoning by the very deadly Amanita phalloides mushroom. Even extreme cases of hepatitis and liver degeneration have shown improvement when treated with milk-thistle seeds. A tea made with the seeds has also been used for skin, vein and gallbladder ailments.

Plant Facts
      Milk thistle belongs to the Compositae, or sunflower, family. Growing as high as 5 feet, milk thistle has large thorny leaves with striking light-green and white markings and bright pink flowers. A relative of the artichoke, the herb may be eaten. The unscented seeds taste slightly bitter and should be ground.

      Milk thistle, native to southern Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor, can grow to 5 feet in height. The herb, with its pretty, red-violet flowers, spread to gardens and farms in other parts of Europe and is now found naturalized across North America's temperate areas. It is often found in fallow and disturbed soil areas. It prefers warm, dry soil and full sunlight.

Parts Used
      Milk thistle seeds, the only plant part used for medicinal purposes, are harvested near the end of the growing season. The hairs should be removed from the seeds before use.

      The flavonolignan compound silymarin, which contains silybin, silydianin and silychristin, is found in milk thistle seeds. It is effective against liver cell toxins and can restore damaged liver cells. The seeds also contain flavonoids, fatty oils, essential oil and mucilage, which support the actions of the silymarin.

      Milk thistle is used to treat inflammatory liver ailments, especially chronic illnesses, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. Gallbladder ailments and related digestive symptoms, varicose and spider veins problems in the legs and jaundice are helped by milk thistle treatment, as well. A silymarin injection is an antidote to poisoning from the "death cap" mushroom, amanita.

Therapeutic Effect
      The active ingredient in milk thistle seeds is silymarin, a combination of three different flavonoids that supports the walls of liver cells, preventing poisons from penetrating them. It also stimulates the regeneration of these cells. Bitter principles and amino acids help support the entire digestive system.

Silymarin as a liver tonic
      People with acute liver problems should follow a six-week treatment with tea made from milk thistle seeds (below, in healing tea mixtures) several times a year. This tea treatment program is often recommended for people with liver damage caused by excess alcohol intake and cirrhosis.

How silymarin works
      Silymarin helps prevent liver poisoning in two ways. It changes the liver cell walls in such a way that it is very difficult for poisons, such as cabon tetrachloride, to penetrate the walls. Silymarin also stimulates cell division so that new liver cells will grow continually.

Methods of Administration

      For poor digestion, drink this tea 30 min. before meals. To support blood vessel integrity for the treatment of spider or varicose veins, drink 2-3 cups of tea throughout the day.
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsps. of crushed seeds. Steep 10-15 min. and strain. There is no time limit on treatment with this tea; its use may be ongoing.
      Peppermint increases the effectiveness of milk thistle tea and improves its taste. When you make the tea, add 1 tbsp. of peppermint leaves to the mixture.


      For gallstones or other gallbladder concerns, take 20-30 drops up to 3 times daily until the condition improves. To prepare the tincture, mix ¼ cup of crushed seeds with 1¼ cups of rum in a clean glass jar. Cover tightly and shake well. Let stand for 4-6 weeks, shaking every few days. Strain out the seeds and bottle the liquid.

Nutritional Supplement
      To support good liver function, eat 1 tbsp. of ground seeds daily. In a coffee grinder or spice mill, grind seeds to add to hot cereals, muffins, rice dishes and other whole-grain meals.

Medicinal Uses

Tincture for intensive treatment
      Silymarin is only partly water soluble, so for an intensive treatment to protect and regenerate liver cells, you should also use a tincture made from milk thistle seeds to increase the effect of the tea. Put 10 drops of the tincture into 1 cup of milk thistle tea. This tincture can also be purchased in health food stores. Caution: Because of its alcohol content, never use the tincture if you are suffering from acute liver inflammation or alcoholism.

Leaf tea for aiding digestion
      You can also make therapeutic teas from the leaves of the milk thistle. They do not contain silymarin, but they have an overall positive effect on the liver and gallbladder, and a tea made with them is valuable for improving digestion and for easing mild digestive complaints. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1½ tsp. of finely chopped leaves. Steep for 5-10 min. and then strain. Drink 2-3 glasses per day.

Compresses for varicose veins
      The external application of the tea in a compress can help varicose veins and open leg sores. Make the tea; cool. Soak a cloth in the cooled tea and apply as a damp compress 1-2 times per day.

Healing Tea Mixtures

To promote liver health

      Prepare this tea with the above herbs. It is a therapeutic mixture that can be used over a long period of time to protect liver cells without side effects. Drink 3 cups of the tea per day.

For stomach complaints
      This mixture eases gastrointestinal problems, such as excess gas and upper abdominal discomfort that may be the result of liver problems.

For venous pain and varicose veins
      This mixture will constrict open leg wounds. It strengthens the walls of the veins and seals the tissues around the wound. You can drink the tea, or use it to make a compress.

Magickal Information

Folk Names: Marian Thistle
Gender: Masculine
Planet: Mars
Element: Fire
Power: Snake Enraging

Magickal Uses

      The Anglo-Saxons recorded the fact that if the milk thistle was hung around a man's neck, all snakes in his presence would begin fighting.

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      All information provided in this article is the result of research using (but not limited to) the following books and guides: Herbs for Health and Healing, Rodale; Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham; Magical Herbalism, Scott Cunningham; The Complete Guide to Natural Healing, International Masters Publishers; Earthway, Mary Summer Rain; Teach Yourself Herbs, Susie White; Natural Beauty from the Garden, Janice Cox; Nature's Prescriptions, Editors of FC&A Medical Publishing, and The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies, Joe Graedon and Theresa Graedon, Ph.D