Milk thistle is different from the green, thorn graced leaves and purple, daisy like flowers that is the bane of gardeners and farmers everywhere. This particular thistle is grown in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and Northern Africa. It has antioxidant properties that benefit mankind.
Over the centuries milk thistle has been used to treat liver problems like liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), “Death Cap” mushroom poisoning, gall bladder problems, and toxin build up in the liver.
One study shows that individuals who were exposed to toxins over the course of several years showed improved liver function after taking milk thistle. The particular toxins in this study were vapors from tolulene and xylene. Toxins can build up in the liver from medications and household chemicals too.
Other uses for milk thistle, according to Wikipedia, include inhibiting the growth of breast, prostate, and cervical cancers; lowering cholesterol; reducing resistance to insulin; reducing damage from chemotherapy; reducing the effects of a hangover.The University of Maryland Medical Center warns against using this herb if you have breast of prostate cancer.
The contradictions between these two sources goes to show that the use of this herb or any other herb should be thoroughly researched before using. It should also be discussed with your physician.
Should you decide to take milk thistle you should know that it comes in a variety of forms. It comes in capsules, liquid extract, tincture, and silymarin phosphatidylcholine complex. Silymarin is the product of the milk thistle plant.
Milk thistle can be eaten too. The roots can be roasted after par-boiling, broiled or eaten raw. In the spring when the young thistles come up they can be cut and boiled. Leaves can be trimmed of the thorns and used as a substitute for spinach or be used in a salad. The bracts on the flower head can be eaten like an artichoke.