By David Fenner
Native to the Mediterranean, Milk Thistle is a hardy biennial, pollinated by Bees, which grows quickly to a height of 1.2m. A good green manure plant flowering between July and September, Silybum Marianum flourishes in moist, well-drained soils which can vary in content between sandy, loamy, or heavy clay.
The plant has been used in herbal medicine for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Andrew Chavallier, FNIMH, states in his ‘Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine’ (DK Publishing), that recent research confirms traditional herbal knowledge proving the herb has the ability to protect the liver from damage from alcoholic and other types of poisoning and has shown to protect the liver in people taking chemotherapy for cancer. It is also know to increase breast milk production.
Almost the entire plant is used, from the root to the flower buds. It may be eaten raw, but the flower buds will need to be cooked in some way and can be used as a Globe Artichoke substitute. Flower heads are eaten fresh as a tonic food, the root has a mucilaginous texture similar to Ochre and Aloe, but it’s the seeds which are mainly used in remedies.
Silymarin is the substance in the seeds which protect the liver and may be taken as a decoction for liver infections, a tincture to help hay fever, or even in capsules for hangovers.
Milk Thistle has a number of benefits and is a useful addition to any medicine garden.