phytochemicals Phytochemicals

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Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle

Silybum marianum

What is milk thistle?

Milk thistle is a long biennial herb which grows up to about 2 m high. Typical for milk thistle are the milk-white veins of the dark-green leaves. These leaves are toothed with sharp spines. The flowers are red-purple and bear brown shiny fruits.

Parts used

Mainly the ripe fruits or seeds of the milk thistle are used. Sometime the root or aerial parts are used.


These are typical phytochemicals found in milk thistle: flavonolignands, betaine, silymarin, silybinin, isosilibinin, silychristin, silydianin, flavonoids, silymarin.

Benefits of milk thistle

Milk thistle is used as a general digestive tonic and hepatoprotective medicine. Animal studies have shown that silymarin of milk thistle exerts a liver protective effect against toxins. Milk thistle prevents toxins from entering the liver cells and stimulates the formation of new liver cells. Many studies have shown that milk thistle improved the condition of a liver with alcoholic liver disease. Milk thistle is used to treat viral hepatitis and jaundice.
Silymarin, the main phytochemicals of milk thistle has strong anti-oxidant activity and may have anti-cancer effects. In vitro laboratory studies have indicated that silymarin inhibits the growth of cancer cells of the prostate and breast. There are indication that he milk thistle can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, while increasing the HDL (good) cholesterol.
Milk thistle is used to treat poisoning after eating death cap mushrooms.

Other facts

Milk thistle originates from the Mediterranean and can now be found in most parts of the world. The milk thistle stalks are eatable and nutritious. The young leaves can be eaten raw as a salad. The heads of the milk thistle look like small artichoke and can be eaten as such.

Other names

Marian thistle, St. Mary's thistle, our lady?s thistle

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