Thistle: NAMES, History, Use, Properties, and Benefits

COMMON NAME: Milk thistle

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertner

FAMILY: Asteraceae

POPULAR NAMES: Card Marian, Holy thistle, Lactate thistle, Card d’le maccie, Mary’s milk, Donkey thistle, Spotted Thistle, Cardium, Battilana, Maganazzi, Cardu Tuva, Cima de cardu.


  • (Eng) Milk-thistle
  • (Fra) Chardon marie
  • (Ger) Mariendistel
  • (Spa) Milk thistle



  • Habit: biennial herbaceous plant. In the first year the basal rosette of leaves is formed, in the second the flowers develop which can reach a height of 1.5 m.
  • Leaves: can be up to 40 cm long and are characterized by white streaks. Their margin is wavy and vaguely toothed with triangular lobes at the apex of which there is a thorn. The basal leaves are smaller and more petiolate but less toothed than the upper leaves.
  • Flowers: gathered in large and single flower heads at the apex of the branches. The flower heads have an oval base that extends into a sharp appendage whose surface is characterized by a series of scales. The flowers inside the flower head are magenta and all the same.
  • Fruits: these are oval achenes, flattened laterally. They are dark brown in color and are wrapped in a short pappus with whitish bristles.

ETYMOLOGY OF THE NAME / HISTORY AND TRADITIONS: according to popular history, the whitish spots on the leaves would have remained from the drops of milk that fell from Mary’s breast during the flight to Egypt, hence the name “Marian”. Andrea Mattioli in 1554 described the cholagogue and diuretic properties of this plant and in 1800 it began to be used for its anti-hemorrhagic and hypertensive properties.

NOTES: The roots of the milk thistle show diuretic and febrifuge activity, the leaves are more bitter and digestive. But the most interesting part of this plant is the fruits (improperly called seeds), whose detoxifying and protective properties of the liver are confirmed.

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HABITAT: it is found throughout Italy and especially in the Center-South. It grows spontaneously on the edges of roads and in uncultivated fields, it prefers stony and dry soils.

TIME AND METHOD OF HARVEST OR CULTIVATION: the seeds of milk thistle are harvested between July and August when after flowering the flower heads begin to open. The flower heads are collected and dried. Then we continue with the beating of the flower heads to obtain the fruits they contain.

Use Of Thistle

PART USED: fruits (erroneously called seeds)

HOW TO USE IN COSMETICS: creams containing milk thistle or silymarin extracts are often referred to as anti-aging creams, thanks to their known antioxidant properties.

HOW TO USE IT IN THE KITCHEN: it is often found as an aromatic ingredient and aperitif for making liqueurs. The flower heads of milk thistle are used in a number of popular recipes, to which this rustic vegetable gives its characteristic bitter taste.



  • Flavolignans: silymarin, silybin, silydianin, silycristin
  • Lipids with a high concentration of unsaturated fatty acids: linoleic, oleic, palmitic acid. Tocopherol, sterols and essential oil
  • Proteins, tyramine, mucilages
  • Flavonoids: apigenin, Kemferol, quercetol, catechetical tannins

Sitosterol, fumaric acid, triterpene acetate, polyacetylenes


The main therapeutic properties of milk thistle are:

  • Hepatoprotector
  • Purifying and detoxifying
  • Antioxidant
  • Digestive
  • Hypertensive (raises blood pressure)
  • Slightly spasmolytic and anti-haemorrhagic


Here are some uses, when to take it, and the dosage.

Infusion: put a tablespoon of fruits, previously crushed, in boiling water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes, drink 3-4 cups a day one hour before meals.

Dry extract: titrated in silymarin at least 1.0% and take 1 capsule 1-2 times a day.

Mother Tincture (Hydroalcoholic Solution): 60 drops diluted in a little water, 1-2 times a day, preferably after meals.


What is it for? Useful as a natural remedy in case of:

  • Fat liver
  • Weighted body
  • Slow digestion
  • Arterial hypotension
  • Hemorrhoids


As regards side effects or unwanted effects, the literature reports that it is generally a well-tolerated medicinal herb, but in more sensitive subjects it can give a slight laxative effect that ceases 2-3 days after the end of the intake. We do not recommend taking in case of allergy to Asteraceae. Avoid in case of high blood pressure. Theoretically, silymarin could increase the elimination of estrogen, so it should not be taken by women taking oral contraceptives or replacement therapy (HRT).

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