Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) - Plant Profile
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Milk Thistle, a beautiful and strong medicine. In the wild she is full of sharp spikes which don't let you get too close unless you are truly in need of her gifts.
Growing to be about 2-3 feet tall, Milk Thistle leaves have very thick, white veins and look as if someone actually poured milk over the plant. When the flowers bloom they are beautiful purple color, with disk flowers of the Asteraceae family.
There is so much to say about Milk Thistle, but I am just going to keep it to the point and touch on its key actions.
Milk Thistle's primary affinity is within the liver. The constituents held in the seed are called Silymarin. This compound is where the power of liver restoration comes into play. Milk Thistle rejuvenates, protects and supports the liver while stabilizing liver cell membranes. Milk Thistle has traditionally been used for prevention and management of chronic liver conditions, specifically those stemming from alcohol abuse, as well as damage caused by Hepatitis C.
Milk Thistle is not water soluble so making a tea from the seeds is not recommended. You can decoct the seeds for an hour and will still only extract about 10% of the silymarin content. The way to go is a high alcohol percentage tincture of about 70-90%. Now, seeing that this is a wonderful remedy for those who have taken on years of alcohol abuse, a tincture may not be the best choice for them. If your friend, family member, or client is or was a recovering alcoholic the taste of a tincture could spiral them into a relapse and that is the last thing we want.
An alternative would be just simply consuming the seeds as food by chewing 1 tablespoon per day which is considered a therapeutic dosage. Milk Thistle is in the Asteraceae family, which also includes the common sunflower, and the seeds can be eaten the same way as sunflower seeds. They are a bit harder to chew but the taste is pleasant and in my opinion, they taste like blue box mac & cheese from the 90's.
Milk Thistle is also a great Cholagogue / Choleretic which means it increases the formation and secretion of bile. When there is a lack of bile, our body cannot properly break down fats and oils which can lead to liver stagnation, jaundice, and dry skin. Taking Milk Thistle before eating a large meal is a great way to get that bile flowing so the food can be quickly and properly digested.
In Ayurveda, the human body is made up of the 5 elements (earth, air, fire, water, space) and there are three body constitutions called the "Doshas" that are each ruled by two of these elements.
Vata - Air|Space
Pitta - Fire|Water
Kapha - Earth|Water
Milk Thistle is considered to be tridoshic due to its neutral energetics, which means it can be beneficial to all three doshas.
Vata: Due to its fatty oil content, Milk Thistle helps to restore dry atrophied tissues which can be seen in Vata imbalances.
Pitta: Due to its mildly bitter flavor and alterative action, Milk Thistle is great for pitta type blood conditions.
Kapha: Milk thistle moves the stagnant waste that builds up in the body, commonly seeing in Kapha imbalanced conditions.
Both Pitta and Kapha have oily qualities and you must keep this in mind when working with Milk Thistle due to it's fatty oil content.