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Milk thistle is a plant that is native to Europe and was brought to North America by early colonists. Milk thistle is now found throughout the eastern United States, California, South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia. The above ground parts and seeds are used to make medicine.
Milk Thistle is a popular ornamental and medicinal plant. It is a robust, thick stemmed thistle with a basal rosette of unique green and white marbled, deeply lobed leaves, of up to 60cm long. Milk Thistle will grow up to 1,5m in height, has needle sharp spines on all parts of the plant, and bears numerous purple florets in summer, followed by black seeds, each bearing a tuft of white hairs. Outside of herbal use it is considered a weed as it self-seeds readily. Milk Thistle is hardy, needs well-drained, alkaline soil and full sun. Slugs and snails may damage the leaves.
Milk Thistle is a herbaceous annual or biennial plant with a dense-prickly flower head and reddish-purple tubular flowers. Milk Thistle has an extensive history of use as an edible plant. In the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder reported its use for supporting liver health. Theophrastus (IV century BC) and Dioscorides (1st century AD) also wrote of its value. The English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1650) claimed it was effective for supporting the normal functioning of the liver. At the turn of the 20th century, Eclectic physicians also used Milk Thistle to support healthy liver function.
Much of the modern day research has been conducted in Germany where it is an approved herb in The German Commission E Monographs.*Milk thistle is taken by mouth most often for liver disorders, including liver damage caused by chemicals, alcohol, and chemotherapy, as well as liver damage caused by Amanita mushroom poisoning, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and chronic hepatitis.
Some people apply milk thistle directly to the skin for skin damage caused by radiation.
In foods, milk thistle leaves and flowers are eaten as a vegetable for salads and a substitute for spinach. The seeds are roasted for use as a coffee substitute.
Don't confuse milk thistle with blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus).
How does it work?
Milk thistle seed might protect liver cells from toxic chemicals and drugs. It also seems to have blood sugar-lowering, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Possible side effects include:
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn't enough reliable information to know if milk thistle is safe to use when pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
- Children: Milk thistle is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth, appropriately, for up to 9 months in children 1 year of age and older.
- Allergy to ragweed and related plants: Milk thistle may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family. Members of this family include ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and many others. If you have allergies, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking milk thistle.
- Diabetes: Certain chemicals in milk thistle might lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Dosing adjustments to diabetes medications might be necessary.
- Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Milk thistle extracts might act like estrogen. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don't use these extracts.
As always make sure you are using organic herbs as pesticides are toxic and always take normal doses, excessive amounts of anything is not good for you.
We are not doctors, lawyers, accountants or your mom. We give out free smiles and the occasional unsolicited advice. That being said; if you are pregnant, nursing or concerned about your health, call your mom. Or even better, consult a doctors before consuming; particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.