milk thistle

Milk thistle

Milk thistle, Silybum marianum (formerly Cardus marianus), is a fantastic liver tonic also good for preventing gallbladder stones, leg ulcers, varicose veins headaches and migraines. It is also effective as adjuvant therapy for cirrhosis and chronic inflammation of the liver.


Asteraceae (Aster family)


Blessed milk thistle, Marian thistle, Saint Mary’s thistle, variegated thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, holy thistle


Seeds (medicinally), flowers, leaves and roots (culinary)


Native to Southern Europe, milk thistle is found throughout the world.


Milk thistle is a stately annual or biennial plant that reproduces by seed. It can be easily controlled in the garden if you diligently harvest the flowers and/or seeds. However, it can be an invasive species in the wild.

Height: 1.20-1.50 m (4-5 ft)
Width: 60-90 cm (2-3 ft)
Flowers: red-purple
Leaves: oblong to lanceolate, hairless, shiny pale green with white veins
Blooms: March and April
Fruit (seeds): contained by an achene which is brown-black and large with a silky, white pappus. As with dandelion, the pappus has feathery bristles that function as a “parachute” making it possible for the seeds to be carried by the wind.
Blooms: June to August (December to February in the southern hemisphere)


Milk thistle prefers well-drained soil and needs protection from snails and slugs. It’s best grown in poor soil. Avoid fertilizing it with nitrogen or planting it in nitrogen rich soils as this plant tends to concentrate unhealthy nitrates in the leaves.

Hardiness: Zones 6-9
Germination: 10-15 days
Space: 90 cm (3 ft)
Soil: well-drained and dry. This plant is very drought tolerant.
pH: 6-8
Exposure: Full sun.
Propagation: By seed.
Garden Design: Milk thistle has imposing leaves and mixes well with other herbs.


When the flowers begin to dry and the white pappus begin to form, put the flower heads in a paper bag and allow them to fully dry. Once the seeds are dried, shake the bag to separate them from the flower head. Store them in an air-tight container away from direct light.


1.5-3 % Silymarin (flavonoids siybin A and B, silychristin and silydianin – poor water soluble), 20-30 % fatty oil, 25-30 % protein, mucilage


Antioxidant, anti-hepatotoxic, carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, hepatic, liver tonic, liver regenerative, liver protective, spleen tonic, kidney tonic, nutritive


Bitter, cooling


Sweet (seeds), bitter (leaves)


Earthy, herbaceous


Milk thistle is an extraordinary herb for the liver that can be used both in prevention and therapy. It protects the liver by stabilizing the cell membranes, therefore, preventing the infiltration of toxins such as alcohol, medication, food, etc. It also stimulates the regeneration liver cells and promotes the flow of bile.
It may also slow down the poisoning caused by of death cap toxins (amatoxin).
As prevention, milk thistle may be taken for gallbladder stones, leg ulcers, varicose veins, headaches and migraines.
As adjuvant therapy, milk thistle can be taken for cirrhosis and chronic inflammation of the liver.

Take internally for:

  • liver protection (prevention and therapy)
  • gallbladder stones (prevention)
  • leg ulcers (prevention)
  • varicose veins (prevention)
  • headaches and migraine (prevention)
  • cirrhosis and chronic inflammation of the liver (adjuvant therapy)
  • promoting bile flow

Recommended daily dosage:

12-15 g seeds (fruits) for 3-6 months
Preparations: 200-400 mg silymarin for 3-6 months

  • infusions
  • tincture

Sprinkle the crushed or ground seeds on granola, muesli, smoothies, etc. The seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The leaves are quite tasty; cut off the prickly edges and cook as you would spinach. The flowers can be eaten like artichokes.


Rarely soft stools.



milk thistle
Bühring, U. 2015. Alles über Heilpflanzen. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Ulmer.
Bühring, U. Girsch, M. 2016. Praxis Heilpflanzenkunde. Stuttgart: Haug.
Wichtl M. 2004. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals – A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: medpharm Scientific Publishers.

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