Prominent Constituents as Reported in Scientific Literature:
Flavanolignans, flavanonols, flavonols, flavones, lignans, biogenic amines, lipids and proteins.7
Promotes healthy liver function*
Milk Thistle is in the same family as Artichoke, and the bud and flower look very similar but are smaller in size.
The preferred habitat is one of waste places or hedge banks that are likely near the ocean, especially when the soil is dry and rocky.3,6 It can be grown in all types of soils and pH, including very alkaline soil, but favors fertile, calcium carbonate-rich soil.3 Milk Thistle requires full sun, as it can’t tolerate shade, and well-drained soil.3
Frost tolerant, it has its leaves year-round, flowering in the early summer and seeding in late summer to fall after pollination by bees.3,11
The common name, Milk Thistle, is based on the white “veins” on the leaf and the milky sap that is exuded from the leaves and stems.4,10 Similarly, the other common name of Mary’s Thistle, once called Our Lady’s Thistle, was a reference to the leaves’ milky white veins that were said to have originated from Mary’s milk falling on the Thistle plant.6 The genus name Silybum comes from the Greek silybon, meaning “thistle-like plant.”4 Milk Thistle is often confused with the herb Blessed Thistle, as it was referred to with the same name and both herbs were used in folk herbalism to increase milk supply in lactation*. Blessed Thistle is now the official common name for a different but related plant, Centaurea benedicta syn. Cnicus benedictus.
The leaves were called “Pig Leaves” as they are a delicacy of pigs, while the seeds are a favorite of goldfinches.6 In older times, all parts of the plant were consumed for food by humans.6 In the spring, people boiled and ate the flower heads, similar to Artichokes, as their diets were generally devoid of fresh vegetables over the winter.11 Milk Thistle’s usage in herbalism dates back to the Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder.6,10 Dioscorides, the Greek botanist, physician and pharmacologist also used the seeds of the plant in herbalism.6
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