Although the gardener and lawnworker would be unhappy to see this plant sprout, the herbalist knows better! The milk thistle, when full grown, is a splendid plant. It can grow several feet tall and top off with a colorful purple-pink pompom-like bloom. However, its beauty is best observed carefully, as the stem and leaves are covered with sharp, prickly thorns.

Despite these thorny annoyances, the milk thistle offers a wide range of benefits. The stem can be peeled to remove the spiny points and then eaten like celery. The leaves can be steamed like spinach. The roots can be boiled or eaten raw. Even the seeds can be eaten, but are quite potent and should be supervised by a knowledgeable provider.

Most of us don’t go out and literally "eat our weeds", but rather we buy prepared supplements. Milk thistle has be a long standing staple with the herbalist. Milk thistle is extremely popular in Europe where it is used in liver tonics. Studies have found that milk thistle contains Vitamin P (flavonoids). The flavonoid silymarin, according the Mindall’s Herb Bible, has been shown to have direct effects on the liver. Some feel that the effects are protective in nature, while other studies, particularly from Germany, show that it can actually help treat acute and chronic hepatitis, jaundice, and counter the effects from drugs and alcohol. Milk thistle can rejuvenate the liver and promote the develop of new liver cells.

The liver is our second largest organ and its proper function is critical to our overall health. It produces bile, necessary for fat breakdown, and detoxifies pollutants that enter our bloodstream. This detoxification includes alcohol, nicotine from cigarettes/cigars, and the many other toxins found in the air, such as carbon monoxide. As we are exposed to more and more pollutants, the liver must work harder and harder. Anyone who works with chemicals, is exposed to second-hand smoke, or drives in rush-hour traffic can assist their liver with detoxification by supplementing with milk thistle.

Although milk thistle isn’t one of the new "cure alls" touted in the supplement department, it is a powerful, mainstay herb with a targeted purpose and function. And, since the majority of us fall into one of the categories above, we could all do well by "eating some weeds"!

Author's Bio: 

Marian Brown has been involved with holistic and natural health care for over 20 years. She is editor of Holistic Health News (