Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

Carduus marianus.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Milk Thistle
Silybum marianum

A good green manure plant, producing a lot of bulk for incorporation into the soil[K].

  • Medicinal Use

    Blessed thistle has a long history of use in the West as a remedy for depression and liver problems[254]. Recent research has confirmed that it has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from damage resulting from alcoholic and other types of poisoning[254].

    The whole plant is astringent, bitter, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, stomachic and tonic[4, 21, 160, 165, 238]. It is used internally in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and poisoning[238]. The plant is harvested when in flower and dried for later use[238].

    Silymarin, an extract from the seed, acts on the membranes of the liver cells preventing the entry of virus toxins and other toxic compounds and thus preventing damage to the cells[244]. It also dramatically improves liver regeneration in hepatitis, cirrhosis, mushroom poisoning and other diseases of the liver[222, 238, 254]. German research suggests that silybin (a flavonoid component of the seed) is clinically useful in the treatment of severe poisoning by Amanita mushrooms[222]. Seed extracts are produced commercially in Europe[222]. Regeneration of the liver is particularly important in the treatment of cancer since this disease is always characterized by a severely compromised and often partially destroyed liver[K].

    A homeopathic remedy is obtained from equal parts of the root and the seed with its hulls still attached[4]. It is used in the treatment of liver and abdominal disorders[9].

  • Edible Use

    Root – raw or cooked[1, 2, 4, 52, 183]. A mild flavour and somewhat mucilaginous texture[K]. When boiled, the roots resemble salsify (Tragopogon hispanicus)[1, 4, 115].

    Leaves – raw or cooked[1, 4, 5, 52, 89, 115]. The very sharp leaf-spines must be removed first[46, 183], which is quite a fiddly operation[K]. The leaves are quite thick and have a mild flavour when young, at this time they are quite an acceptable ingredient of mixed salads, though they can become bitter in hot dry weather[K]. When cooked they make an acceptable spinach substitute[238]. It is possible to have leaves available all year round from successional sowings[K].

    Flower buds – cooked[1, 238]. A globe artichoke substitute[12, 183], they are used before the flowers open. The flavour is mild and acceptable, but the buds are quite small and even more fiddly to use than globe artichokes[K].

    Stems – raw or cooked[4, 100]. They are best peeled and can be soaked to reduce the bitterness[5, 183]. Palatable and nutritious[4, 115], they can be used like asparagus or rhubarb[12] or added to salads. They are best used in spring when they are young[105].

    A good quality oil is obtained from the seeds[4].

    The roasted seed is a coffee substitute[21, 46, 61, 183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    When grown on nitrogen rich soils, especially those that have been fed with chemical fertilizers, this plant can concentrate nitrates in the leaves. Nitrates are implicated in stomach cancers.

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – if sown in situ during March or April, the plant will usually flower in the summer and complete its life cycle in one growing season[K]. The seed can also be sown from May to August when the plant will normally wait until the following year to flower and thus behave as a biennial[K]. The best edible roots should be produced from a May/June sowing, whilst sowing the seed in the spring as well as the summer should ensure a supply of edible leaves all year round[K].
Succeeds in any well-drained fertile garden soil[1, 200]. Prefers a calcareous soil[12] and a sunny position[200]. Hardy to about -15¡c[200]. The blessed thistle is a very ornamental plant that was formerly cultivated as a vegetable crop[1, 61, 238]. Young plants are prone to damage from snails and slugs[200]. Plants will often self sow freely[K].
S. Europe, N. Africa and W. Asia. Naturalized in Britain.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.