Milk thistle has been in constant use as a liver protector and rejuvenator for thousands of years. It is native to the Mediterranean and grows wild throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. I use milk thistle interchangeably with blessed thistle. Both herbs have much the same action, although milk thistle is considered a more potent liver tonic.
Milk thistle possesses the unique ability to inhibit factors responsible for liver damage, while nourishing the production of new liver cells (every cell in the liver is replaced in a six week cycle). It is a superlative ally in protecting the liVer from the damaging effects of environmental chemicals, pollutants, synthetic hormones, chemotherapy, steroids, heavy metals, most drugs, and alcohol.
Some of milk thistle's liver-protecting effects are a vunction of silybin, an antioxidant and free radical scavenger more powerful than vitamins C and A. Silybin alters the liver cell membrane structure, blocking the absorption of damaging substances. Silybin has been proven to prevent poisoning from the death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) if taken before ingesting the mushroom.
I use fresh milk thistle seeds (with the hulls still attached), or dried seeds in 100-proof vodka to make milk thistle seed tincture. A dose is 20-30 drops in water, daily, or as needed, or a teaspoon of freshly ground dried seed. Milk thistle seed tincture is an excellent liver tonic and can help reverse jaundice in babies. If mother drinks a cup of dried seed infusion, or takes 20 drops of tincture in water before or during nursing, the medicinal action of the herb is transferred to baby via her breast milk.
Eclectic physicians used milk thistle to treat those with varicose veins or menstrual difficulties, to tone the liver, spleen and kidneys, to stimulate the production of breast milk and the secretion of bile, and against depression. I have heard that milk thistle is also a stomach and lung tonic, and a demulcent. As with the blessed thistle, the young leaves of milk thistle are eaten as a spring tonic. I cook and eat young thistle flower-budswild artichokes!
Milk thistle is a very showy plant in the garden, and likes to take up a good deal of space. An annual, the plant begins as a rosette of green and white leaves, wavy at the edges and lined with sharp;thorns. About mid-summer, milk thistle sends up a single stalk topped with a huge purple flower. The thistle flower fades and is replaced by white fuzzy, silky threads sticking out of the seedpods. At the end of each thread is a dark brow, liver-loving seed. Harvest by gently extracting the white fuzz (with seeds attached), being careful of the thorny seedpods and leaves.
There is no need to separate the seed from the silk when making medicine. I tincture fresh seeds in alcohol or vinegar and dry some in shallow baskets, pods and all. Ilike to grind a teaspoon of these seeds and sprinkle them over breakfast cereal or into stew.
Healers around the world
use milk thistle successfully
to prevent and treat all
forms of liver dysfunction,
including cirrhosis, hepati-
tis, jaundice, necroses and
liver damage due to alcohol
and drug abuse.
We offer milk thistle here as a simple extract.