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Milk Thistle

Botanical name: Silybum marianum

Other names: artichaut sauvage, blessed milk thistle, cardo lechoso, Cardui mariae fructus, Cardui mariae herba, Carduus marianum, Carduus marianus, lady's thistle, lait de Notre-Dame, legalon, Marian thistle, Mariendistel, Mary thistle, Our Lady's thistle, shui fei ji, silibinin, silybe de Marie, silybin, silybum, Silybum marianum, silymarin, silymarine, St. Mary thistle, St. Mary's Thistle

Uses: Liver protective, antioxidant, cholagogue, galactagogue

Milk thistle, not to be confused with blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), gets its name from the milky sap that comes out of the leaves when they are broken. The leaves also have unique white markings that, according to religious lore, were the Virgin Mary's milk. In foods, milk thistle leaves and flowers are eaten as a salad vegetable and as a substitute for spinach. The seeds are roasted for use as a coffee substitute.

Milk thistle is most often taken for disorders of the liver, including damage caused by ingestion of chemicals or poison, jaundice, cirrhosis, and chronic hepatitis. Anecdotal reports call it a must to take before or after consuming rich or greasy foods, drugs, alcohol, coffee, or toxins of any kind. WebMD reports, "Nevertheless, researchers have not yet concluded with certainty that milk thistle is effective for any of these uses."

Milk thistle is also used to stimulate the appetite and to relieve heartburn (dyspepsia) and gall bladder complaints.

Some people use milk thistle for diabetes, hangover, diseases of the spleen, prostate cancer, malaria, depression, uterine complaints, increasing breast-milk flow, and allergy symptoms.


  • Milk thistle sometimes causes a laxative effect. Other less common side effects are nausea, diarrhoea, indigestion, intestinal gas, bloating, fullness or pain, and loss of appetite.
  • Since there is insufficient data about the use of milk thistle during pregnancy and breast-feeding, women who are pregnant or nursing should stay on the safe side and avoid papaya.
  • Milk thistle may also cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to other plants of the same family, including ragweed, chrysanthemum, marigold, daisy, and many others. People with allergies should check with their healthcare provider before ingesting milk thistle.
  • Diabetics should be aware that chemicals in milk thistle could lower blood glucose, necessitating alteration to diabetes medication dosing.

In cases of hormone-sensitive conditions such as cancer of the breast, uterus, ovaries, or endometrium, or uterine fibroids: Extracts from milk thistle plant may behave like oestrogen. Those with a condition that could be exacerbated by exposure to oestrogen should avoid these extracts. In contrast, the more commonly used milk thistle seed extracts do not appear to act like oestrogen.