Tips for Growing Milk Thistle

COMMON NAMES:
Milk thistle, Silybum, Lady's Thistle, Holy thistle and Our Lady's Milk Thistle

LATIN NAME:
Silybum marianum

HISTORY:
Milk thistle is a member of the genus Silybum Adans, and is in the daisy family. Native of Southern Europe, this plant can be found all over the world, as is abundantly used in North Africa and the Middle East. The name "milk thistle" comes from the more obvious features of the plant, both the milk-like splotches of white covering the leaves of the plant, as well as its milky sap. Traditional medicine has relied on the seeds of milk thistle to treat illnesses of the liver for over 2,000 years, in numerous societies the world over.

HERBAL PROPERTIES AND USES:
Currently, more and more scientific studies are looking into the herbal properties and used of milk thistle. Known for centuries as a "liver tonic", milk thistle is high in a chemical component called silymarin, the active agent in its liver-protective capacities. Milk thistle has also been reported to greatly improve the overall functioning of the liver, and is used for reducing cirrhosis of the liver, chronic liver inflammation, damage done to the liver through the intake of alcohol and other intoxicants, as well as gallbladder disease. It may also be used to lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the growth of cancer cells in the breast, cervix and prostate. It has also been known to reduce the toxic effects of a hangover, and is used to help individuals withdrawing from opiates.

Milk Thistle Cultivation and Growing Methods

ANNUAL/PERRENIAL PLANT:
Annual or biennial (Takes 2 years to complete the growth cycle)

PARTS USED:
Seeds, leaves and roots.

SOIL REQUIREMENTS:
Does well in most types of soils, especially fertile pastures that have been overgrazed and poorly managed.

SUN REQUIREMENTS:
Milk thistles prefer sunny or lightly shaded areas.

GROWING ZONES:
USDA growing zones 5-9

PLANTING TIME:
Sow seeds at a depth of 3mm in early summer or just after the last frost of spring.

POLLINATION:
Milk thistle reproduces by its own seed.

FLOWERING/SEEDING TIME:
From seed, milk thistle will take around three weeks to germinate.

HARVESTING:
Cut off flower heads when white pappus tuft begins to develop as the flower dries at the end of the growing season. Seeds can be harvested for a few weeks.

DRYING METHODS / YIELD:
Let the cut flower heads dry in a sunny, warm place for 5 to 7 days or in a brown paper bag in a dry, warm place. After dried, place in a burlap sack and chop at the flower heads to remove seeds. Winnow the seeds in the open air, or using a fan.

PLANT YIELD:
Each milk thistle flower can produce about 190 seeds, with an average of 6,350 seeds per plant, with over 90% being viable for growth and use. It is the seeds that are most often used for medicinal purposes. Approximately 1 /4 pound of seed will be yielded per plant.

PRESERVATION / PACKAGING METHODS:
Can be dried and stored as any herb or spice in an air-tight container.

ESSENTIAL OIL USE:
Used as a liver tonic and common ingredient to aid in a liver cleanse.

PLANT CHEMICALS:
Silybin is the main chemical agent in milk thistle responsible for its medicinal effects (about 60% of silymarin).

IS THIS AN EDIBLE PLANT:
Yes, almost all parts of the plant, including roots, young shoots, the spiny bracts on the flower head, the stems and the leaves can be eaten.

CAUTIONS / CONTRAINDICATIONS:
Considered toxic to livestock. Avoid using if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

DRUG INTERACTIONS:
May interfere with antipsychotics, seizure medications, halothane, allergy drugs, drugs for high cholesterol, anti-anxiety drugs, antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs, as well as some cancer drugs. Consult your healthcare provider before taking milk thistle.

Clinical Research About Milk Thistle

  • Hogan F, Krishnegowda N, Mikhailova M, Kahlenberg M. (2007). Flavonoid, silibinin inhibits proliferation and promotes cell-cycle arrest of human colon cancer. J Surg Res
  • Lawrence, Valerie MD, MSc et al. (2000). "Milk Thistle: Effects on Liver Disease and Cirrhosis and Clinical Adverse Effects". AHRQ Publication No. 01-E025.
  • Lieber CS, Leo MA, Cao Q, Ren C, DeCarli LM. (2003). "Silymarin retards the progression of alcohol-induced hepatic fibrosis in baboons". Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2003 Oct;37(4):336-9.
  • Kroll DJ, Shaw HS, Oberlies NH.(2007). Milk thistle nomenclature: why it matters in cancer research and pharmacokinetic studies. Integrative Cancer Therapies.6:110-119.

 

References

  1. University of Maryland. http://www.umm.edu/medref/
  2. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/milk-thistle-benefits-and-side-effects
  3. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "http://nccam.nih.gov/health/milkthistle/"
  4. http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/health/Avoid+hangover+hell+with+milk+thistle-1336.html
  5. http://www.edible-plants.com

 

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