Medicinal plants

Milk Thistle – Application & Treatment for Health

Milk thistle

Milk thistle is one of the best-known herbal medicines for strengthening liver function. It was already known as a remedy in ancient times and was used to treat various ailments as early as the Middle Ages.

Occurrence & Cultivation of Milk Thistle

The milk thistle ( Silybum marianum ), also known as the wild artichoke , belongs to the daisy family and originally comes from North Africa and southern Europe. From there it reached Central Europe in the Middle Ages, where it grows to a height of up to 1.50 m, mainly in warmer and dry areas. Their leaves are spiky at the edges and have white marbling in the leaf veins.

This marbling is typical of the milk thistle and also gave it its name. According to legend, a few drops of milk fell on the leaves of a thistle when Saint Mary was nursing baby Jesus. The ball-like, only about 5 cm large flowers of the milk thistle are purple, the plant blooms in July and August. In August/September, the flowers develop into fruits with seeds, which initially have a crown of hairs (papus) attached to them, as in the dandelion, but which is quickly shed and is not used in the manufacture of medicines.

Effect & Application

Milk thistle has a long tradition as a medicinal plant. Its healing properties were already known in antiquity and it was already cultivated in monastery gardens in the Middle Ages. In old herbal books, for example by Hildegard von Bingen, you will find recipes for thistle infusions against stabbing abdominal pain , cramps , bleeding , hot flashes and to stimulate milk flow.

Paracelsus also knew about their effectiveness against stabbing pains . Today it is best known for its positive effect on the liver. This was discovered by the doctor Johann Gottfried Rademacher in the mid-19th century.

Milk thistle is considered one of the most effective natural remedies to support liver function in digestion and detoxification of the body. Various scientific studies prove the positive effect on the liver. The fruits of the milk thistle are used for medicinal purposes. They contain an active ingredient mixture of silymarin, a flavonoid mixture, fatty acids and protein, which sits just under the shell. The main active ingredient is silymarin.

The milk thistle is mainly used as a finished preparation. You can get it as a highly concentrated dry extract in pharmacies. They are also available as tablets, capsules or coated tablets with a certain silymarin content. A daily dose of 200 – 400 g silymarin is recommended. If you suffer from severe liver problems, a higher dose should be taken for about 2 weeks, after which the dose can be reduced again.

In general, tea made from milk thistle extract is not as effective because the silymarin does not dissolve in water, but it can help with bile and digestive problems. To prepare the tea, take 2 teaspoons of milk thistle fruit, crush them and pour 150 ml of boiling water over them. Then let the tea steep for 10 – 15 minutes and then pour it through a sieve. For a 6 week regimen you can drink 3 to 4 cups per day.

Importance for health, treatment & prevention

Milk thistle is by far the most effective remedy for liver disease . It even surpasses synthetic drugs in its effect. The dried herb and the fruits are used. Milk thistle protects the liver cells from toxins, regenerates them, has an antioxidant effect and improves fat digestion by stimulating the flow of bile.

Because of its positive effectiveness in chronic liver inflammation, liver cirrhosis and liver damage from poisoning, which has been proven by scientific studies, it was officially recognized by the Federal Health Office as a medicinal plant for internal use.

Milk thistle strengthens the membrane of the liver cells and protects them from the penetration of toxic substances. The silymarin also ensures that the liver recovers better after damage. Some studies have also been able to show that milk thistle fruit extracts ensure that liver diseases, such as fatty liver, progress more slowly. Milk thistle helps with poisoning , for example from fungi, and offsets the effects of alcohol consumption.

Milk thistle preparations are best used after consulting a doctor. Finished preparations help better than a tea infusion because the ingredients are difficult to dissolve in water and the concentration in the tea is not high enough. A tea can help against feelings of fullness and flatulence .

The main areas of application of milk thistle are:

  • Acute liver inflammation due to poisoning (e.g. from mushrooms, medicines and alcohol)
  • chronic liver damage from toxins, drugs, alcohol and viruses
  • Liver weakness after acute serious illnesses, for example influenza , operations, burns
  • Liver weakness in chronic diseases such as rheumatism
  • Liver strengthening and detoxification
  • indigestion

Side effects hardly occur. It is better not to be taken by people with an allergy to daisy family. Milk thistle supplements are usually well tolerated, but higher doses can cause bloating and abdominal pain . Occasionally diarrhea can occur.

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, milk thistle preparations should only be taken after consulting a doctor, even if you have known allergies to daisy family plants. It makes sense to get advice from a doctor about which milk thistle preparation makes sense.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.