Milk Thistle: A Supportive Herb for Liver Health

by Melissa Chichester

On the Greek island of Crete, hidden in the pristine waters of the Mediterranean Sea, one of today’s most popular herbs for well-being was born. While it is native to Crete, today milk thistle is cultivated and grown all over the world and is a member of the sunflower and daisy families.

With its purple flower heads and white veining, it is a thorny plant traditionally used to support liver health.* 

Because of how fast it grows, many farmers consider it a weed. However, all parts of the milk thistle plant have been used throughout history to support human wellness.

Milk thistle history

For more than 2,000 years, milk thistle has been used for wellness. The ancient Greeks used milk thistle for its cleansing properties.* Furthermore, during the Middle Ages, numerous pieces of literature further referenced milk thistle for liver health.* In 1626, it was referenced in Matthiolus’ Book of Herbs. In the Book of Herbs published in 1679 by German botanist Adamus Lonicerus, it is referenced again for its use in liver wellness. Throughout the last fifty years, research on milk thistle benefits has grown. 

Milk thistle benefits

The liver is a critical organ and the largest internal organ in your body. It has many responsibilities, including converting nutrients so they can be used by your body. The liver also filters out unwanted substances.

The liver is involved in digestion, nutrient absorption, and metabolizes everything we put into our bodies.

This includes food, liquids, medications, and supplements. While the entire milk thistle plant has been used for wellness support, silymarin is the beneficial active component of the plant that is extracted from milk thistle seeds.

Silymarin helps maintain healthy liver function by supporting the structure of the outer cell membrane of liver cells.* Beyond supporting liver health, milk thistle has antioxidant properties that support overall wellness.* Antioxidants also help scavenge cell-damaging free radicals.*

How to use milk thistle 

Taking a milk thistle supplement is not the only way to reap the benefits of this mighty herb!

Milk thistle capsules can be broken open and prepared as a cleansing tea.*

In many DIY teas, milk thistle is combined with other cleansing herbs, such as dandelion root.

You can also make milk thistle tea with the seeds; however, they need to be crushed in a mortar and pestle first. Crushed seeds can also be added to smoothies and other foods. Milk thistle tinctures are useful if you do not like to swallow pills but still want to reap the benefits of this herb. Tinctures are easy to mix into water and other liquids.