Milk Thistle

MILK THISTLE (Silybum marianum, a.k.a. Carduus marianum)

Family: Asteraceae

Parts commonly used: Ripe seed.

Properties/energetics: Liver tonic, nutritive, liver protective and regenerative, antioxidant, demulcent/Cold; bitter, sweet.

Systems predominantly affected:  Digestive (specifically the liver), skin.

Uses: Milk Thistle protects the liver against a wide variety of environmental toxins. It has the unique ability to alter the membranes of the hepatocytes (the primary functional cells of the liver), rendering them less permeable, thereby preventing toxic substances from penetrating the liver. Milk Thistle is a strong antioxidant (far more potent than vitamin E) that prevents damage to the liver from free radical activity. It also prevents the depletion of glutathione (a chemical intricately involved in the liver’s detoxifying action). In addition, Milk Thistle has a particularly strong action in preventing damage from lipid peroxides (ingested poor-quality fats). Just as important as Milk Thistle’s protective effects on the liver are its regenerative effects. It is rare to find a substance that offers these effects, and that is why Milk Thistle is such a uniquely important herb in our herbal material medica. By stimulating the synthesis of proteins in the liver, Milk Thistle promotes cell reproduction in a damaged liver. This is the basis of its use as a tonic in those individuals recovering from liver damage from alcohol, drugs, toxic substances such as the Deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides), pharmaceutical drugs, anesthetics, and steroids or, more commonly, damage (both subtle and obvious) incurred by solvents, fumes, pesticides, and other chemical pollutants. Life is even better with herbs.

Combinations: Milk Thistle is less effective for microbial diseases of the liver such as hepatitis. When healing this condition, use with Artichoke and Peppermint leaves as a tonic to decrease elevated liver enzymes, alleviate fatigue and muscle soreness, and protect the body from other viral symptoms associated with hepatitis. Use Milk Thistle with Artichoke and Dandelion (followed by a tastier cup of Pu-erh fermented Green Tea) to counter the effects of greasy binges as well as diets that celebrate the overconsumption of low-quality fats. Taking a lecithin supplement is found to help the absorption of Milk Thistle.

Affects on specific body types: Profoundly useful for just about anybody considering the contemporary toxic environments we often inhabit. An excellent tonic for strengthening the generally weak Seer liver, but also useful as a protectant to damage in all constitutional types. Note that Milk Thistle is not a strong choleretic or cholagogue and therefore, in sluggish liver syndromes, it needs to be combined with stronger biliary stimulants such as Artichoke leaf or Dandelion root. Milk Thistle has a marked effect on psoriasis, probably due to its ability to assist the liver in handling its toxic load. In general, Milk Thistle seems a reasonable supplement to any of the constitutions working to heal skin imbalances.

Preparations/dosage: Milk Thistle seed does not extract in water (teas). Grind the seeds into a powder and take as food or in capsules. Take 1/3 ounce daily. Tincture: Take 15 to 45 drops three to four times a day. (Note: An effective Milk Thistle tincture will contain a high ethyl alcohol content used to extract the beneficial silymarin constituent, which is not water soluble. Therefore, alcohol-intolerant persons need to avoid ingesting the tincture or should drive off the alcohol by a solvent-exchange process as described in chapter 5 of The Male Herbal.)

By James Green, Herbalist, copyright 2008

For more information please refer to James Green’s book, The Male Herbal, 2nd Edition