Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)


Milk Thistle Overview:

Milk thistle originated from the Mediterranean. It is most useful for treating liver dysfunctions and promoting lactation in females (hence the name).

This thorny herb contains a series of bitter-tasting chemicals that work to stimulate the production of bile in the liver, and the release of bile into the duodenum. They also upregulate both phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification which then leads to its long list of beneficial actions on the health of the liver, and metabolism. This includes fatty liver disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and drug or mycotoxin metabolism and excretion.

Milk thistle is currently the best known antidote for Amanita muscarina (fly agaric) poisoning.

+ Indications:

  • Amanita muscaria mushroom poisoning
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Cancer topical use
  • Chemotherapy supportive agent
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic uterine problems
  • Cirrhosis
  • Constipation
  • Dyspepsia
  • Endometriosis
  • Fatty liver
  • Gallbladder dysfunctions
  • Gastrointestinal pain and discomfort
  • Improve liver detoxification
  • Jaundice
  • Liver conditions
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nausea during pregnancy
  • Nephroprotective and hepatoprotective
  • Poor milk production
  • Psoriasis
  • Radiation damage in the liver
  • Substance Abuse
  • Toxicity due to environmental chemicals and drugs
  • Viral Hepatitis
  • Weak digestion

+ Contraindications:

None reported.

Herbal Actions:

  • Hepatoprotective
  • hepatotrophorestorative
  • Antioxidant
  • Choleretic
  • Cholagogue
  • Mild hypocholesterolemic
  • Galactagogue
  • Nephroprotective
  • Demulcent
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiviral

Main Uses:

Milk thistle is mainly used as a liver tonic for those with metabolic conditions, weak digestion, or high cholesterol. It is also used in acute conditions for dyspepsia, upset stomach, indigestion, or liver toxicity to certain drugs or mycotoxins. In females milk thistle is popular for stimulating the flow of milk for nursing mothers.

Other conditions related to secondary effects of poor liver health such as eczema, psoriasis, jaundice, and anorexia are also commonly treated with milk thistle.


Daily Dosage

Liquid Extract

Ratio: 1:2

4.5-8.5 mL

Weekly Dosage

Liquid Extract

Ratio: 1:2

30-60 mL


Part Used

Seeds, root, and leaves (mostly the seeds).

Family Name



The Mediterranean
Australia (invasive)
Throughout Europe

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Constituents of Interest

  • Silymarin

Common Names

  • Milk Thistle
  • St. Mary's Thistle
  • Marian Thistle
  • Our Lady's Thistle
  • Carduus Marianus

Botanical Info:

Milk Thistle is part of the asteraceae family of plants, which is the largest family of flowering plants in the world. It is a thistle, which places it in the Cynareae tribe. Other members of this tribe includes artichoke, cotton thistle, and the common thistle.


Research Overview:

Level Of Research:


Clinical Applications Of Milk Thistle:

Milk thistle has undergone a lot of research for its actions on the liver. The ability for milk thistle to increase glutathione free radical scavenging, enhance cellular regeneration of liver tissue, inhibit fibrosis of the liver, reduce inflammation through TNF and NF-kB modulation, inhibition of phalloidin transporting system, and upregulation of both phase 1 and phase 2 liver detox pathways allows milk thistle to exert a broad protective effect on the liver and related systems.

Milk thistle's ability to improve overall liver health makes it useful for liver specific conditions like alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, hepatitis, and liver toxicity due to drug or mycotoxin intake. Additionally, these effects can reach to other areas of health affected by the liver such as high cholesterol, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and hypertriglyceridemia. Milk thistle can be highly beneficial for some of the most common chronic conditions we see today through its ability to regulate and improve the general health of the liver.

Milk thistles ability to improve liver health, and its bitter properties allow it to provide benefit for conditions involving poor bile release or production, resulting in symptoms like indigestion, anorexia, and flatulence or bloating.

Milk thistle is also a reliable herb for improving the flow of milk in new mothers.



Due to the ability for milk thistle to upregulate liver detoxifiication, it may increase the onset or potency of prodrug medications like codeine, and decrease the effectiveness of drugs metabolised by the liver. Caution is advised if taking any medications.


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For list of references, visit the full milk thistle monograph.