Milk Thistle also known as Silybum marianum, Holy Thistle, Variegated Thistle, Lady’s Thistle. Milk thistle is a member of the sunflower family native to a narrow area of the Mediterranean. It has since been naturalized throughout Europe and can commonly be found in Oregon and California where it is considered a common garden weed. Despite this unsavory reputation, milk thistle has quite a striking appearance, noted by the large pink or purple flower growing atop its solitary stem. The edible thistles were given the name silybum by Dioscorides, a Greek physician who served in the Roman Army over 1,900 years ago. The thistle with white mottling on its leaves became known as the “milk” thistle. In Catholic Germany, its usefulness was said to be second only to calling on Mother Mary, and the white mottling on the leaf is said to be the touch of the Virgin Mary?s milk, hence the species name “marianum.” Milk Thistle contains silymarin (silibinin, silydianin, and silychristin), vitamin E (tocopherols), and about 90% fatty acids. The leaves of the milk thistle are edible and can be consumed as a potherb. Three of the active compounds within milk thistle seed are collectively identified as silymarin. The German Commission E has approved an extract of 70% silymarin in supporting healthy liver function. The Commission has also approved milk thistle in its crude form for minor dyspeptic complaints.
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