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Silybum marianum photo.jpg
Scientific Classification
  • Silybum eburneum
  • Silybum marianum [2]

The milkthistle is a bright and beautiful purple plant that is a great decoration. However, its leaves and stem are very pointy and can prick someone. This plant is not seen a lot for two reasons. One is that maintenance is a big part of it. It takes some energy and effort to take care of the plant after finding the right and best place to plant it. The second reason is that the plant is toxic to animals if eaten. The plant was first grown in a cattle field, and scientists figured out that the plant is poisonous to the animals. Although, for humans, the plant can be used to help liver function and diseases. There are many other problems and disorders it can help, but this is the main one. It doesn't always help these problems and the milkthistle also comes with side effects.

Body Design

A clear and beautiful picture of Silybum marianum.

A milkthistle is a sharp spiny flower with a purple center and a spiny white veined plant. It can grow up to ten feet high. Since there are only two kinds of milkthistles, there are only two "looks". The Silver Milkthistle, or Silybum eburneum, is one of the two Silybum species. It actually is not a silver color, but has a faded purple color. The flowers are arranged solitary and bloom from June to September. It is a pinnate plant with simple leaves, that are arranged opposite of one another. It does not produce any cones, but has a stout stem with many spines. [3] The plant grows best in moderately moist soil and prefers being in sunny areas. However, it can withstand temperatures around negative seventeen degrees Celsius. [4]

The other species of milkthistles is the Blessed Milkthistle, or Silbum marianum. When it blooms, it is a bright purple, pale plum, or white color. It is an annual and perennial plant. It can either grow in a single season, or stay in a garden for many years. Like most plants, and like the Silver Milkthistle, it cannot be in harsh or low temperatures. [3] It has wide leaves with white blotches and white veins. It can grow up to ten feet high, and then it blooms; it is most common to see ones that are two to six feet. When it blooms, it attracts insects and butterflies in particular. These plants are called a milkthistle because of the milk-like splotches of white covering the leaves of the plant and because it produces somewhat of a milky sap. [3][5]

Life Cycle

A milkthistle is a great plant to put in a garden. It is beautiful and stands out. It can add a lot of color to a flower bed. Caution is recommended because of its spiky leaves and if caught on, someone can be pricked. Each milkthistle can produce about one hundred and ninety seeds. A milkthistle is also very beneficial. It is edible and can be boiled as a vegetable; the leaves can be used in salads, and the root can also be eaten. However it is toxic to livestock. Most commonly people use this plant for medicinal reasons. In the seed cases silymarin is found and that ingredient blocks toxins from entering liver cell membranes, detoxifies liver cells, and promotes regeneration of liver cells through increased ribosomal protein synthesis. However, this treatment for people with liver problems has not always been proven effective. [6]

When planting a milkthistle, it can take up to two years for it to complete its growth cycle. It is best for the seeds to be planted in semi-moist soil either from a store or in fertile pastures. It would be best for it to be planted in a place where it is touched by sun and shade. Sow the seed in the soil at a depth at about three millimeters either in early summer or just after the last bit of frost from spring. It will then take around three weeks to germinate. To then gather more seeds for the next season do the following steps. When the white pappus tuft begins to develop as the flower dries at the end of the growing season, cut off the flower heads. Let the cut flower heads dry off in a sunny/warm place or place it in a brown paper bag in a dry and warm place for about five to seven days. After it has dried, place it in a burlap sack and chop at the flower heads to remove the seeds. Then winnow the seeds in the open air or use a fan. They can then be stored like any other herb or spice in an air-tight container. [7]


Point Map of Silybum marianum

The Silybum is mainly found in high fertility soils. It can be found near or on river flats, roadsides, overgrazed pastures, and of course in gardens and yards. This plant grows in many parts of the United States, South America, and Europe. The S. eburneum is native to Europe and Northwest Africa. The S. marianum is native to Southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Northern Africa. It does do well in most temperate areas of the world. In some places it is considered a weed, in others it is eaten, but the milkthistle is most well known for being a medicinal remedy. [8][3][4] Planting this plant causes some problems. Like mentioned before, the milkthistle is toxic to animals. The plant contains nitrate and when animals break it down when digesting it, the "poison" is released and the animal has a lack of oxygen. The poisonous threats are greater when soil moisture is high. [8]

Each head of the plant produces about one hundered seeds and about ten to fifty heads are produced per plant. The milkthistle spreads by seed dispersal. The seeds have a large pappus which allows the spread by wind. They can also be dispersed by water, mud, agricultural produce, vehicles, machinery, and animals. The S. marianum germinates at the beginning of fall after it first starts to rain. It is best not to plant the seeds in perennial pastures if the soil is sufficiently covered with vegetation around the time of late summer and autumn. It is recommended to plant the seeds in tall dense patches that have moisture and nutrients. Overgrazing and fire are factors that encourage the spread of the seeds in large areas. [8]

Medicinal Remedies

People have been using the milkthisltle for medicinal remedies for about two thousand years. The ancient Greeks were recorded as the first to use them for this reason. This plant is mostly used to treat liver and gall bladder problems, disorders, or diseases, but also for indigestion, food poisoning, and cancer prevention. The specific liver diseases that people take for this plant include acute viral hepatitis, chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and toxin-induced liver damage. Sometimes when taking milkthistle it may lower cholesterol levels, reduce insulin resistance in people who have type two diabetes and cirrhosis, and reduces growth of breast, cervical, and prostate cancer cells. It also protects the liver by promoting the growth of liver cells, fighting oxidation, inhibiting inflammation, fighting against toxicity from acetaminophen (Tylenol), alcohol and other drugs. It is also used for cancer prevention and high cholesterol [9][10]. The milkthistle is mostly used to improve liver function, but doesn't always work. Milkthistle can be taken as a capsule, in extracts or powders, in supplements, in tea, or can be combined with other herbs. [9][10]

However there are serious and mild side effects to taking milkthistle. The common side effects are an upset stomach ache and mild diarrhea because it can have a laxative effect. Some rare and mild effects are rashes, headaches, heartburn, and joint pain. If sensitive to plants in the same family as the milkthistle, allergic reactions are possible. Various gastrointestinal side effects are possible as well and the lowering of blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, hypoglycemia, or people taking drugs or supplements affecting blood sugar levels. [10] Other side effects and safety concerns are itching and rarely gas, nausea, and bloating. [3][9] Women who are breastfeeding or are pregnant should avoid using milkthistle. Some women should also avoid using this plant because it mimics the effects of estrogen. Additionally, women should not use milkthistle if they have breast, uterine, or ovarian cancers. Usually when people use the milthistle for under four years, it is safe. [9]


Multiple pictures of the beautiful Silybum marianum.



  1. PLANTS Profile Silybum Adans. milkthistle USDA. Web. 14 May 2013 (access).
  2. Silybum Wikispecies. Web. 9 February 2013 (update).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Information About Milk Thistle ‘’’’. Web. May 19, 2013 (access).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Silybum eburneum Hortipedia. Web. May 19, 2013 (access).
  5. Blessed Milk thistle Silybum marianum Folia. Web. May 19, 2013 (access).
  6. Milk Thistle Silybum marianum Kansas Herbs. Web. May 19, 2013.
  7. Tips For Growing Milk Thistle Global Health Center". Web. May 19, 2013 (access).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Silybum marianum Bugwood Wiki. Web. May 21, 2013 (update).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Milk Thistle: Benefits and Side Effects Web MD. Web. June 22, 2012 (update).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Milk Thistle NIH. Web. July 2012 (update)