Medicinal plants

Milk thistle herb - effect and application

Milk thistle herb - effect and application

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Diesteln: Application in naturopathy

Thistles are primarily known for their stinging needles. The plants with the thorn leaves may also be known to many as an ingredient for salads or vegetable side dishes. Many people are no longer aware that some types of thistle also have a special healing effect. In fact, thistles are among the ancient medicinal plants of folk medicine. This applies in particular to milk thistle herb (

Silybum marianum), which was known to our ancestors as a cure for women and indigestion. Today it is mainly used for liver and biliary problems. However, milk thistle herb also has a good effect on a host of other health complaints. The healing properties of the plant in the digestive organs are not limited to the liver.

Profile of milk thistle herb

  • Scientific name: Silybum marianum, cauduus marianus
  • Plant family: Daisies (Asteraceae)
  • Popular names: Christ's crown, thistle thistle, thistle thistle, fever thistle, woman thistle, savior thistle, marienkorn, milk thistle, stinging grain, holly herb, venus thistle, white thistle
  • Plant parts used: flowering herb, root
  • Origin: Mediterranean region, North Africa, southern Europe, central Europe, southern Russia, Asia Minor
  • Most important ingredients:
    • Amines,
    • Bitter substances,
    • essential oils,
    • Flavonoids
    • and tannins.
  • Application areas:
    • Allergies,
    • Inflammation,
    • Women suffering,
    • Biliary problems, biliary pain,
    • Vascular disease,
    • Ulcers,
    • Skin rash,
    • Cramps,
    • Liver problems,
    • Gastrointestinal complaints,
    • Spleen complaints,
    • Muscle aches,
    • Neuralgia,
    • rheumatism
    • and poisoning.

Herbal portrait: The medicinal herb of the Holy Mother

The milk thistle herb, which is up to one and a half meters high, originally comes from North Africa and the warm regions of the Mediterranean, thanks to its good winter hardiness it is also slightly overgrown in temperate latitudes and has therefore been native to Central Europe for centuries. The plant belongs to the daisy family and in particular to the Carduoideae subfamily, which owes its name to the ring thistle (Carduus). It is another genus of thistle that we have at home, which used to include milk thistle herb. Today, however, Silybum is an independent genre. And although this only includes two known species, the special status is justified. Because if you take a closer look at ring and milk thistle herb, you will quickly notice some significant differences.

The milk thistle herb has the thorny pinnate leaves that are typical of thistles, but in contrast to the ring thistle, these are marbled white with species of Silybum. In addition, in the case of milk thistle herb, the flower is surrounded by a strong wreath of thorns, which is much more pronounced than in many other types of thistle. The unmistakable, bright purple basket flowers, which resemble a powder puff in their shape, have both thistle genera in common. However, they grow steadily in milk thistle herb, while ring thistles also produce multi-permanent flowers.

Useful information: The tassel shape of the thistle flowers is also responsible for the milk thistle herb's specialist botanical name. The term “silybum” is derived from the Latin word “silibon”, which means “tassel”.

Another difference between milk thistle herb and ring thistle can be found in its medicinal properties. Because only milk thistle herb has ingredients that, according to a study, can be used as liver therapeutics. Epithets such as female thistle, Venus thistle or milk thistle also refer to the use of milk thistle herb as a medicinal herb. Both menstrual pain and typical women suffering from mothers-to-be, such as milk jams, are said to respond positively to treatment with Silybum Marianum.

Legends, history and symbols

The official name "Milk Thistle Herb" is also interesting in this context. It was not chosen by chance, but rather reminds of the special connection of the thistle to the life of the Virgin Mary. According to a legend, the plant Maria showed a safe hiding place during her flight to Egypt. When she was breastfeeding the baby Jesus, drops of breast milk are said to have fallen on the leaves of the milk thistle herb, which are said to have caused the typical milky-white marbling of the thistle leaves. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the milk thistle herb represents an important standard ornament on the altar and in flower arrangements on the commemoration of the Blessed Mother, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In addition, the leaf thorns of the plant are often associated with the crown of thorns of Jesus Christ, which explains names such as Christ's crown or Savior's thistle.

In Scotland, the thistle is not only a national plant, but also a symbol of protection for the Order of Thistles. Its name stems from a legend that the thistle warned the first knights of the order of the enemy at night when he stepped on the plant and cried out loudly, stung by its thorns. The knights then awoke from their nightly sleep and were therefore able to ward off the enemy and his army in time. The thorny protection of the thistle leaves and flowers thus most likely became a symbol of the defensiveness of Scottish knights. "Nemo Me Impune Lacessit" ("No one attacks me with impunity") - is the motto of the Scottish Thistle Order.

In England, milk thistle herb amulets were supposed to protect against snakes that were considered messengers of the devil in the Middle Ages. In this case, the superstition can be traced back to a medical origin. The ancient Greek doctor Dioskurides recommended Silybum Marianum against snake bites in ancient times and was one of the first to point out the detoxifying effects of milk thistle herb.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar of natural history, used the thistle to “bile drainage” and thus laid the foundation for the use of milk thistle herb for gall stasis and indigestion.

The famous monastery woman and mother of all herb women, Hildegard von Bingen, discovered milk thistle herb again as a heart and pain reliever. So she recommended the herb against "stinging in the heart and other organs of the body". She also noticed the good treatment options for Silybum Marianum for poisoning and bilious diseases such as jaundice. An English botanist and court physician to King James I even attributed the plant an extraordinary effect in depression, which paved the way for the use of milk thistle herb as an antidepressant.

Application areas

It can be seen that the list of possible uses for Silybum Marianum is long. The following treatment areas are known:

  • Women suffering - For example milk congestion, premenstrual syndrome or menstrual pain.
  • Vascular disease - For example, circulatory disorders, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, water retention (edema) or portal vein congestion.
  • Skin discomfort - for example ulcers, rash, open legs or wart problems.
  • Muscle and nerve problems - for example sciatica, migraines, sore muscles, muscle cramps and neuralgia.
  • Indigestion - For example, air in the abdomen (flatulence), stomach cramps, heartburn or constipation.
  • Liver and biliary disorders - For example fatty liver, gallbladder inflammation, biliary congestion, jaundice, hepatitis, liver weakness or cirrhosis.
  • and other complaints - For example allergies, depression, malaria, spleen problems, motion sickness, high blood sugar, rheumatism, pleurisy, dizziness, worm infestation, poisoning or toothache.

Ingredients and effects

The active ingredient complex of milk thistle herb is also commonly referred to as "silymarin". This term is often misleading because it gives the impression that it is a specific substance. In truth, however, silymarin is made up of different ingredients of the plant. In addition, the herb contains some separate essences, which also play a role in the healing effects. The following active ingredients of milk thistle herb are to be emphasized:

  • Amines,
  • essential oils,
  • Bitter substances,
  • Flavonoids
  • and tannins.


Amines are ammonia derivatives that are commonly used to make dyes, lubricants, and some pharmaceutical products. Biogenic amines in particular also have a medicinal effect. This applies to tyramine and histamine, which are both found in milk thistle herb. Tyramine is a so-called sympathomimetic and, as a neurotransmitter, influences the conduction of excitation in the body. Accordingly, it is able to widen the airways and increase blood pressure and heart rate. This can lead to a short-term increase in performance, which is often desirable in sports.

Patients with low blood pressure or respiratory problems can also benefit from tyramine. The same applies to people who want to lose weight because the tyramine inhibits the hunger center in the brain, which makes it easier to avoid unhealthy snacks. Also interesting is the fact that tyramine promotes the release of norepinephrine. This can lead to a wave of euphoria, which is highly desirable for mood swings and depression.

The biogenic amine is certainly better known as tyramine histamine. Another neurotransmitter that is normally made by the body itself and is essential for immune function. Because histamine causes the immune system to develop an inflammatory reaction if there is an infection or allergy. Apart from that, histamine is also involved in the production of gastric acid and thus in digestion. Anyone who complains of digestive problems can benefit from an additional unit of histamine from milk thistle herb preparations. The amine also influences the sleep-wake rhythm and thus the mental and emotional balance. Those who do not come to rest and therefore suffer from a nervous intestine or even constipation and stomach cramps, the thistle's own histamine could help.

Bitter substances

The undefeated experts in digestive support are bitter substances. As the main constituent of bitter bitters, they stimulate the production of gastric and biliary juice and thus facilitate digestion. They also support the contractility of the intestinal muscles, which stimulates the intestinal peristalsis. All in all, bitter substances work:

  • antimicrobial,
  • appetizing,
  • improves blood circulation,
  • anti-inflammatory,
  • antipyretic,
  • immune boosting,
  • antispasmodic
  • and secretion-promoting.

The digestive properties of milk thistle herb, as well as its good effects on inflammation and cramps, are largely due to the bitter substances contained in the plant.


The active ingredient complex Silymarin is composed primarily of various flavonoid derivatives. Which includes:

  • Silibinin,
  • Silicristin
  • and silidianin.

The flavonoids are known as antibiotic agents in poisoning from the tuber agaric. The fungal poison particularly affects the liver, while the liver-protecting effect of the flavonoids achieves a special cleaning effect.

Danger: We strongly advise against doing private experiments with milk thistle herb in case of poisoning! Any intoxication requires immediate notification of the emergency doctor! The intake of milk thistle herb should only be considered here to bridge the waiting time for the ambulance!

The liver cleansing effects of the flavonoids in silymarin can also be used to treat liver diseases such as fatty liver or hepatitis C. In addition, the active ingredient complex inhibits the pathological multiplication of connective tissue, which plays a decisive role in cirrhosis of the liver. The flavonoids in the milk thistle herb have one

  • antioxidant,
  • hypotensive,
  • draining
  • and antispasmodic effect.

Again, these effects of digestion benefit, which is why silymarin is traditionally used for flatulence and gastrointestinal complaints. In addition, the flavonoids, as antioxidants and antihypertensives, strengthen heart function and vascular health by neutralizing pollutants such as environmental toxins that cause oxidative stress in the cardiovascular system.

As early as 2011, the flavonoids in silymarin were tested for their medical potential in the treatment of lung cancer as part of a study. Chinese researchers came to the conclusion that the active ingredient complex of milk thistle herb may open up new therapeutic options. The studies on this topic have since been followed up intensively and the benefits of silymarin in cancer treatment have been confirmed on several occasions.


The tannins of milk thistle are especially helpful against inflammatory diseases and infections. It makes no difference whether the inflammation relates to nerve fibers or organ tissue, because the vegetable tannins, better known as tannins, have an astringent effect on both skin and organ, muscle and nerve tissue. This means that they have a contracting effect, which makes inflammatory germs and infectious agents difficult to penetrate into the tissue. Thanks to this mechanism of action can be particularly good

  • Skin inflammation,
  • Inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract
  • and treat inflammation of the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat.

In addition, tannins act as an antidote to heavy metal and alkaloid poisoning, which improves the detoxification effect of milk thistle herb. Thanks to their wound healing and hemostatic properties, the tannins also help to facilitate menstruation and reduce menstrual pain.

Application and dosage

Milk thistle herb can be used for its leaf herbs as well as the flowers, fruits and seeds of the plant. If you cultivate the herb yourself or know places with usable collection stands near your home, you can harvest the plant parts yourself from July to August, dry them and then process them further. The fruit ripeness of the thistle fruits and seeds, however, is in September. The ripe fruit stand can be recognized by its silky hair crowns, which are a little reminiscent of the seeds of the dandelion. The silky pappus is removed before the fruit is processed and is not used for medicinal purposes.

Milk thistle herb in the kitchen

The oldest form of use of Silybum Marianum is as food. Especially in the Middle Ages, the plant was an important tonic in times of need when other foods were scarce. For this purpose, the fresh flower heads of the thistle were prepared like artichokes, so they were boiled in water and then served as a salad ingredient or vegetable side dish.

Today, milk thistle herb oil in particular is very popular as a healthy variant of conventional standard oils that are rich in saturated fatty acids. It is easily digestible and is wonderful for tasting salads or antipasti. In addition, thanks to its gastrointestinal-friendly ingredients, it also supports digestion and facilitates fat digestion for the liver. You can buy milk thistle herb oil in every health food store, health food store or in well-stocked supermarkets.

By the way: The roasted seeds of the milk thistle herb used to be used as a coffee substitute. "Take milk thistle herb and a little less sage and make juice with the addition of water. Just at the hour when the stinging starts, drink it and it gets better ”- wrote Hildegard von Bingen.

Milk Thistle Herb Tea

The preparation of milk thistle herb tea has a long tradition, for example

  • Stimulation of milk secretion during breastfeeding,
  • Treatment of menstrual cramps,
  • Treatment of indigestion,
  • Detoxification, cleansing and strengthening of the liver,
  • Heart problems and pain symptoms,
  • Relief of muscle and nerve cramps,
  • Stimulation of bile secretion
  • or metabolism stimulation with existing allergies.

In addition to the thistle flowers, the fruits and seeds are also used here to make tea. If you want to be on the safe side with dosing, the best way to get your milk thistle herb tea is as a finished product from the pharmacy. There you can find single teas, each containing only flowers, fruits or seeds of the thistle, as well as mixed preparations, which may also contain other medicinal plants, such as sage, peppermint or fennel.

Preparation of milk thistle herb tea:

  • Pour a cup of boiling water over one or two teaspoons of milk thistle herb or crushed fruits and seeds,
  • let it steep for about ten to 20 minutes,
  • then filter and drink in small sips.

The tea should be drunk before meals with a maximum daily dose of three cups.

Tip: Milk thistle tea is also ideal as a mouthwash for toothache or gum infections. However, you do not boil the aerial parts of the plant, but the root of the thistle. Some people simply recommend chewing the milk thistle herb root in the case of complaints in the mouth.

Milk thistle herb tincture

For external use, tinctures from the milk thistle herb seeds are used primarily, which were previously ground to powder and then extracted in alcohol. For this you take

  • 20 grams of ground fruit or seeds,
  • 100 milliliters of vodka
  • and a screw jar.
  1. Step:
    Put the ground milk thistle herb in the screw-top jar and fill it to the brim with vodka.
  2. Step:
    Place the screw-top jar on a bright window sill and let the tincture base ripen for about four weeks.
  3. Step:
    The tincture is then sieved and poured into a dark bottle.

The tincture can be used externally for skin complaints, edema, varicose veins or rheumatic diseases. To do this, rub the extract once or twice a day on the affected skin. Internal use of the tincture is also possible, for example for liver diseases or immune deficiencies. The daily dose is a maximum of three times 20 drops per day and it should be borne in mind that this contains alcohol.

Other uses

If you are looking for alternatives to the external use of milk thistle herb tincture, for example because your skin is very sensitive to the strong extract, you can also try a healing bath or poultice made from milk thistle herb. Special creams and ointments with milk thistle herb are no longer uncommon. Digestion capsules made from milk thistle herb oil for better dosing for indigestion, liver diseases and biliary problems are also available in health food stores or in the pharmacy.

Side effects

Serious side effects are not known for preparations made from milk thistle herb. However, patients with existing daisy allergy should refrain from using the plant. Especially those who are already allergic to artichokes and marigolds are better advised to do without.

In rare cases mild diarrhea occurs due to the laxative effect of milk thistle herb. Breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women should discuss the intake of milk thistle herb with their doctor in advance. In general, the herb is not recommended for children. (ma)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Miriam Adam, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Li, Wenhai et al .: "Molecular mechanism of silymarin-induced apoptosis in a highly metastatic lung cancer cell line anip973.", In: Cancer Biotherapy & Radiopharmaceuticals, Volume 26 Issue 3, July 2011,
  • Abenavoli, Ludovico et al .: "Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): A concise overview on its chemistry, pharmacological, and nutraceutical uses in liver diseases", in: Phytotherapy Research, Volume 32, Issue 11, November 2018, Wiley Online Library
  • Bäumler, Siegfried: Today's medicinal plant practice: recipes and application, Urban & Fischer Verlag, 2006
  • Saller R; Iten F .; Reichling J .: "Dyspeptic complaints and phytotherapy - an overview of traditional and modern phytotherapy drugs", in: Researcher Complementary Medicine Class Naturopathy, Volume 8, 2001

Video: A Surprising Way to Cleanse a Fatty Liver (July 2022).


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