One of the many milk thistle benefits include the regeneration of hepatic cells. The prickles of thistles are defenses protecting a valuable medicinal treasure. Many people, however, dismiss these plants, thinking these are rough vegetables only fit for donkeys.
Hence, this plant is given the name donkey thistle in many Latin countries, despite its doubtless medicinal properties.
Indeed, donkeys eat thistles. But “intelligent” humans took many years to discover the milk thistle benefits, something those humble animals know by instinct. Many people would be surprised when learning that a powerful substance against liver disorders is extracted from this thistle: Silymarin, which makes up several pharmaceutical preparations.
A legend says that the white stains on this thistle’s leaves are drops of milk fallen from the Virgin Mary’s breast when she hid her Son from Herod’s persecution. On this basis, Middle Age physicians recommended this plant for increasing milk production in breastfeeding women.
Late scientific developments, which made it possible to know many plants’ chemical composition, allowed physicians to surrender many popular myths about plants. Hence, we can currently use medicinal herbs in a more effective, steady manner than before.
Milk Thistle Benefits: Preparation and Use
- Salads: Young leaves without prickles and flower hearts (like artichokes) can be eaten raw, as Sahara Bedouins do. These are exquisite meals.
- Infusion or decoction: With 30-50 g of mashed or ground fruits per liter of water, some leaves or roots can be added. Drink from three to five cups daily. The dosage can be exceeded with no risk since milk thistle has no toxic side effects.
- Dry extract: The recommended dose is 0.5-1 g, three times daily.
- Scientific synonyms: Carduus marianus L
- Synonyms: Saint Mary’s thistle
- French: Chardon Marie
- Spanish: Cardo mariano
- Habitat: Typical Mediterranean species which also grows in Great Britain and North America, in dry, rocky soils
- Description: Plant of prickly appearance, growing up two meters high, of the Compositae family, with large, thorny, white-stained leaves, its flower heads are pink or purple, and the fruits are hard, dark-colored
- Parts used: The fruits (seeds), the leaves, and the root
Milk Thistle Benefits: Medicinal Properties and Indications
In the fruits of the milk thistle, there are substances with medicinal properties, the so-called flavonolignan. Dr. Coll (of the Pharmacognosis and Pharmacodynamics Laboratory of Barcelona’s Pharmacy College) points out that these complex substances are formed by a flavonoid (taxifolin) and a phenolpropanic molecule (coniferilic alcohol). The mixture of several types (isomers) of flavonolignans is called silymarin.
Silymarin is responsible for one of the many milk thistle benefits. It stimulates regeneration of hepatic cells damaged by toxic substances such as ethyl alcohol or carbon tetrachloride and phalloidine, a substance in the Amanita phalloides, the most poisonous of all mushrooms.
Hence, milk thistle is highly recommended in the following cases:
- Fatty degeneration of the liver
- Inflammation of the liver
- Poisoning with hepatotoxic substances
- Acute viral hepatitis
- Hepatic insufficiency or congestion
- Hepatic cirrhosis
The fruits of the milk thistle and in less proportion, its leaves and root, contain other active substances (biogenic amines, essential oil, albuminoid substances, and tannin), which could explain its balancing action on the autonomic nervous system that controls the tone of blood vessels. Therefore, the plant is successfully used in the cases of:
- Migraines and neuralgias
- Exhaustion and asthenia
- Allergic reactions
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. Vols. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 395,396. Print.