Milk thistle

Since ancient times, our ancestors have used the things they find around them to provide them with sustenance, to assist in their worship rituals, and to heal the sick. Whether it is plants, animals or natural wonders, ancient mankind was very curious about the world around them, and it is for that reason that we now have so many uses for objects found in the natural environment. One of the most advanced sciences we have now days is medicine, so it is a little daunting to think about how our modern medicine is based on the experimentations of ancient healers and herbalists as they tried to heal ancient sicknesses. In fact, medicines like aspirin came about when our ancestors realized that ancient oak tree bark cured headaches, and medicines like digitalis (given to people suffering from heart problems) come from a small plant called foxglove, which can be deadly if mishandled. Through trial and error, ancient healers and herbalists found out which plants work best to cure various ailments suffered by members of the tribe, and today their findings have gone on to create a whole pantheon of modern medicines. And one of those plants is the milk thistle.

Milk thistle is a flowering plant that can be found in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. It is speculated that milk thistle received its name due to the milky sap that it produces, though it could also be because the milk thistle’s leaves are mottled with splashes of white, which take on the appearance of milk. Nevertheless, it is not the flower of the leaves of milk thistle that ancient herbalists and healers found so interesting. No, it was the seeds of the milk thistle that they used to make potions and tonics. And those potions and tonics, our ancestors found, treat diseases affecting the liver. Scientists speculate that our ancestors have been treating chronic liver disease with the seeds of the milk thistle plant for over 2,000 years.

You might expect a plant called milk thistle to exhibit white flowers, but in fact, most of the time this type of plant flowers as pink, purple or some color in between. Milk thistles can blossom either annually or biennially, and they have large, disc-shaped flowers. There are two species of milk thistle, as well, the silybum eburneum and the silybum marianum. Hybrids between the two species are often quite common as well.

If you were suffering from any type of liver ailment – hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, etc. – then an herbalist would be likely to prescribe you some sort of milk thistle as a tonic. Still, medical science has been slower to get into the act when it comes to creating medicines made from the properties of milk thistle. Though, this may soon change. Researchers have been studying the properties of milk thistle since the 1970’s, though reports state that the quality of the research and its findings has been uneven and sometimes even disputed. Still, even researchers have reported that milk thistle has positive effets on the liver and its functions. They have also tested milk thistle as a treatment for cirrhosis of the liver and chronic hepatitis with positive results.

Milk thistle may turn out to be useful for treating non-liver related ailments as well. For example, it could be used to treat gallbladder disorders. Still, it may be useful to wait for double blind placebo controlled studies to come out proving the efficacy of milk thistle before you put too much stock in milk thistle seeds to cure your liver ailment. Until then, there is no substitute for your primary care physician’s care as you battle any type of liver problem.

Last updated on Jan 6th, 2010 and filed under Alternative Medicine. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Response for “Milk thistle”

  1. Te Laston says:

    I have heard of people who carry detox tabs containing milk thistle in their purse or car, in the event that they may consume junk food that is outside their normal schedule.

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