This stunning plant, with its colourful display of large green leaves with blotchy-white patches, saw an imaginative folk legend arise about it. The legend says, that as the Virgin Mary was feeding baby Jesus, some of her milk dropped on the thistle near her feet, which produced the white ‘spilt-milk’ effect, which has distinguished this herb ever since and as a consequence it has been a revered herb, receiving the many common names listed above.
St. Mary’s Thistle has a long history of use in the West as a remedy for depression and liver problems. The liver could be called the hardest working organ of our body, with many vital functions to perform. Due to our toxin-laden food and environment, it may become an over-loaded swamp of poisons. From 1940-1970 numerous research projects confirmed the plant’s remarkable ability to assist the liver in repair, and also to protect from the detrimental effects of alcohol, drugs, toxic foods, heavy metals, and chemicals.
Silymarin, an extract from the seed, acts on the membranes of the liver cells preventing the entry of virus toxins and other toxic compounds and thus preventing damage to the cells. It also dramatically improves liver regeneration in hepatitis, cirrhosis, mushroom poisoning and other diseases of the liver.
Milk thistle has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels, reduce insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes who also have cirrhosis, reduce the growth of cancer cells in breast, cervical, and prostate cancers, and reduce the liver damaging effects of chemotherapeutic drugs.
There is insufficient evidence regarding Milk Thistle in pregnancy, therefore it is best avoided. It may lower blood sugar, use with caution in diabetes.