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Silybum marianum - (L.)Gaertn.

Common Name Milk Thistle, Blessed milkthistle
Family Asteraceae or Compositae
USDA hardiness 6-9
Known Hazards When grown on nitrogen rich soils, especially those that have been fed with chemical fertilizers, this plant can concentrate nitrates in the leaves. Nitrates are implicated in stomach cancers. Diabetics should monitor blood glucose when using. Avoid if decompensated liver cirrhosis. Possible headaches, nausea, irritability and minor gastrointestinal upset [301].
Habitats Waste places[17], usually close to the sea[5], especially if the ground is dry and rocky[165].
Range S. Europe, N. Africa and W. Asia. Naturalized in Britain.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (5 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Silybum marianum Milk Thistle, Blessed milkthistle

Silybum marianum Milk Thistle, Blessed milkthistle


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Silybum marianum is a BIENNIAL growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower from July to September, and the seeds ripen from August to October. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Carduus lactifolius. Carduus marianus. Centaurea dalmatica. Mariana lactea

Plant Habitats

 Cultivated Beds;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Leaves  Oil  Oil  Root  Stem
Edible Uses: Coffee  Oil  Oil

Root - raw or cooked[1, 2, 4, 52, 183]. A mild flavour and somewhat mucilaginous texture[K]. When boiled, the roots resemble salsify (Tragopogon hispanicus)[1, 4, 115]. Leaves - raw or cooked[1, 4, 5, 52, 89, 115]. The very sharp leaf-spines must be removed first[46, 183], which is quite a fiddly operation[K]. The leaves are quite thick and have a mild flavour when young, at this time they are quite an acceptable ingredient of mixed salads, though they can become bitter in hot dry weather[K]. When cooked they make an acceptable spinach substitute[238]. It is possible to have leaves available all year round from successional sowings[K]. Flower buds - cooked[1, 238]. A globe artichoke substitute[12, 183], they are used before the flowers open. The flavour is mild and acceptable, but the buds are quite small and even more fiddly to use than globe artichokes[K]. Stems - raw or cooked[4, 100]. They are best peeled and can be soaked to reduce the bitterness[5, 183]. Palatable and nutritious[4, 115], they can be used like asparagus or rhubarb[12] or added to salads. They are best used in spring when they are young[105]. A good quality oil is obtained from the seeds[4]. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute[21, 46, 61, 183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Astringent  Bitter  Cholagogue  Diaphoretic  Diuretic  Emetic  Emmenagogue  Hepatic  
Homeopathy  Stimulant  Stomachic  Tonic

Milk Thistle has a long history of use in the West as a remedy for depression and liver problems[254]. Recent research has confirmed that it has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from damage resulting from alcoholic and other types of poisoning[254]. The whole plant is astringent, bitter, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, stomachic and tonic[4, 21, 160, 165, 238]. It is used internally in the treatment of liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and poisoning[238]. The plant is harvested when in flower and dried for later use[238]. Silymarin, an extract from the seed, acts on the membranes of the liver cells preventing the entry of virus toxins and other toxic compounds and thus preventing damage to the cells[244]. It also dramatically improves liver regeneration in hepatitis, cirrhosis, mushroom poisoning and other diseases of the liver[222, 238, 254]. German research suggests that silybin (a flavonoid component of the seed) is clinically useful in the treatment of severe poisoning by Amanita mushrooms[222]. Seed extracts are produced commercially in Europe[222]. Regeneration of the liver is particularly important in the treatment of cancer since this disease is always characterized by a severely compromised and often partially destroyed liver[K]. A homeopathic remedy is obtained from equal parts of the root and the seed with its hulls still attached[4]. It is used in the treatment of liver and abdominal disorders[9]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Silybum marianum Milk Thistle for dyspeptic complaints, liver and gallbladder complaints (see [302] for critics of commission E).

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Green manure  Oil  Oil

A good green manure plant, producing a lot of bulk for incorporation into the soil[K].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Succeeds in any well-drained fertile garden soil[1, 200]. Prefers a calcareous soil[12] and a sunny position[200]. Hardy to about -15°c[200]. The blessed thistle is a very ornamental plant that was formerly cultivated as a vegetable crop[1, 61, 238]. Young plants are prone to damage from snails and slugs[200]. Plants will often self sow freely[K].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - if sown in situ during March or April, the plant will usually flower in the summer and complete its life cycle in one growing season[K]. The seed can also be sown from May to August when the plant will normally wait until the following year to flower and thus behave as a biennial[K]. The best edible roots should be produced from a May/June sowing, whilst sowing the seed in the spring as well as the summer should ensure a supply of edible leaves all year round[K].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

ysteban   Sun Jan 19 13:16:13 2003

I don't see how you can rate it 2 out of 5 on a usefullness scale when it is probably the most powerful plant to repair and detox the liver, the cornerstone of the immune system... An impaired immune system is a factor in nearly every disease. Also nearly the entire plant is edible, easy to grow, etc. Even it is beautiful and beneficial to wildlife, Up the rating to a 5!

Mitzi   Sat Jul 31 07:36:59 2004

I was wondering the exact same thing. In these days of hepatitis outbreaks we should be on our knees thanking our Creator for this miraculous plant. I damaged my liver taking doctor recommended tylenol and if it weren't for milk thistle I may be dead or on a donors list somewhere. I am much more positive about this humble plant than I am about any medical treatment any doctor could ever offer me for the health of my liver. I am thankful I was fortunate enough to discover it. My doctor certainly would never have told me about it. He would rather let me die than to recommend I should take something that I can grow at home or buy at a health food store! I will take milk thistle for the rest of my life. The ranking should be raised to a 5.

Kathy   Thu Mar 31 17:31:59 2005

As far as I know, I have not damaged my liver, but I have noticed a strong correlation with feeling mentally alert when I take this. I found it a bit diaretic, and had stopped using it, but have decided to take it again as it allows me to recover fast after a day of fairly extreme exercise. Otherwise, my brain feels foggy for a day after. Still wondering what is causing this.

Mark Fischer   Sun Jun 19 00:42:02 2005

Just to answer your question Kathy, I see lots of people that have a clearing of their though when taking milk thistle. I believe that this is mainly caused by the fact that Milk Thistle helps speed up your body's detoxification process, and removes toxins from the body. For those people that notice an improvement in cognition with Milk Thistle, a gentle detoxificaiton plan may be the best direction.

Joy O'Brien   Fri Jan 13 2006

Please tell me, is milk thistle the same as Blessed Thistle? I have been advised to take the latter in conjunction with Fenugreek to stimulate lactation whilst breastfeeding my 11 week old baby. Holland & Barrett had never heard of Blessed Thistle. If its not the same thing, where can I get a hold of Blessed Thistle quickly?!

Alex   Sun Apr 2 2006

I have exactly the same question as above, for milk supply can somebody please help? cant seem to find blessed thistle i the u.k

Margi   Tue Jun 20 2006

Sorry - have only just found this while looking for something else. Never heard of blessed thistle, but in Tudor times Silybum marianum was known as milk thistle as it stimulates milk supply. Would imagine that it's the same plant, as the marianum bit is more than likely named after Mary/Maria, mother of Jesus, with all the 'blessed' connotations that implies... Hope this helps.

Suzanne   Wed Dec 13 2006

I,m a newcomer to this and have been given the seeds amongst other ingrediants to grind up and eat with oats like museli. Does anyone know about this?

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future.   Wed Dec 13 2006

The ground up seed has a slightly bitter flavour and a rather gritty texture. If this is not a problem, then grinding it up and adding it to muesli is a good idea. Personally, I find it easier to add it to a small glass of fruit juice and drink it. A reasonable amount to take would be a heaped tablespoonful of the ground up seed daily.

Jacqui   Fri Jul 6 2007

I'm looking for blessed thistle too.. and no it's no that the same as Milk Thistle, although the two plants are of course very similar. Blessed Thistle's common name is St Bendicts Thistle and it's latin name is Common name: Cnicus benedictus

Ali   Sun Aug 12 2007

Nettle tea is another excellent herb for lactating mothers. It really improves the amount of milk produced, and is full of great nutrients as well.

Veronica   Mon Sep 10 2007

I've been doing a research about milk thistle, because I've been diagnosed with high estrogen. This is expelled out of the body through the liver, so anything that benefits the liver is good for a general body detox. FYI: I believe Blessed thistle and Milk thistle are the same thing, but I wouldn't take it while breastfeeding at all! It's a quite powerfull plant that shouldn't be entering into the body of a baby. Try instead anise, fennel and cumin extracts. ;-)

ja   Mon Feb 25 2008

I personally would not advise growing it yourself, as it grows invasivly in many wilderness areas in N america. The leaves are bitter when first bitten into, but by the time you finish one, you will want another!

Sandra   Mon Apr 21 2008

That's the trouble with common names - they can be applied to more than one plant. Silybum marianum is sometimes known as Blessed Thistle. The Milk Thistle tablets I have seen actually come with a warning not to use if you are pregnant or breast feeding. The plant was originally used to help mothers produce milk purely because of the white leaf markings. In old medicine and apothecary plants were often used for certain things because of what they looked like. Here, the white markings were associated with milk. It seems from what I have read that the only use proved by research is concerning the liver.

Jay   Tue Nov 18 2008

need more input from people using MT

B Henman   Sun Nov 30 2008

Nov 2008. I have not found a scientific site that clearly supports the clinical efficacy of this plant.However I have read in scientific reports that it is found to be generally safe.So what can one lose by trying something different?

Dr MK Sharma   Mon Apr 20 2009


david   Thu Apr 30 2009

The roots are safe to eat or use in drinks , however the Eyewtness Handbook "Herbs" suggests the liver protecting quality may only be in the seeds and also says the seeds should only be used by qualified medical practitioners (it doesn't say why,toxic in large does perhaps). For this reason I've always taken it in the form of pills purchased in health shops even when I've had it growing wild nearby. Sorry I couldn't be more help.

Jo Jo   Fri May 1 2009

Well i took home with me today i few of these plants,the purple and the white dried out ones,which is full of seeds. Anyway,i think i will try the root and see how it goes. Thanks for your quick reply David

ASHWIN   Mon Dec 14 2009


David   Tue Dec 15 2009

Ashwin, from what I can gather from the latest scientific literature it is definitly effective, but there is debate about just how effective. On the basis of this it would be wiser to quit drinking(for instance, I have no idea of what you're taking it for) than to gamble that it will save your liver and your life. If you can't quit I would say taking it would probably be wiser than not taking it, but it is not a guarantee of health. Best to try to find an open-minded Doctor for advice on something so serious.

Patricia Bidart   Wed Dec 16 2009

I've seen this plant grow like wildly on abandoned properties in Uruguay (S.America). Are there differences in the wild and cultivated plants?

david (volunteer)   Thu Dec 17 2009

I can't say for certain, (I know it is wild is S.A. but don't know any details) but I'd say it's extremely unlikely there is any difference, I've never heard of distinct cultivated varieties, a few minor differences in wild populations.

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Subject : Silybum marianum  
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