For more than 2,000 years, humans have turned to milk thistle (Silybum marianum) for treating ailments of the liver, with its first use dating back to ancient Greece.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a thorny biennial plant presenting decorative leaves with a white pattern of veins and purple flower heads. The plant originates from mountains of the Mediterranean region.
The flower heads are 4 to 12 cm long and wide, of red-purple colour. They flower from June to August in the North or December to February in the Southern Hemisphere (Summer through Autumn ).
Special hybrid seeds are usually used to prepare herbal supplements of milk thistle seed extract. Supplements should be standardized to contain 70-80% of a class of flavonolignans known as silymarin. Silymarin is a powerful antioxidant that is ten times as potent as vitamin E. Three compounds in the silymarin class, silybinin, silydianin and silychristin are the specific substances that produce therapeutic effects in preparations of milk thistle seed extract.
Milk thistle seed extract has been shown to have antioxidant properties that help the liver function and stay healthy.
As the name suggests, this herbal remedy is derived from the seeds of the milk thistle plant. Many people take milk thistle seed extract as protection from environmental toxins, such as second hand smoke. People with liver disease, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice and inflamed liver, use the herb to protect and regenerate that vital organ.
The liver might well be the hardest organ working in our body. It works as a filter, clearing our body or the many toxins we are exposed to every day. Silymarin helps the liver to stay strong during this process.
Silymarin also enhances glutathione production in the liver. Glutathione is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells from damage, keeping them healthy and functioning as they should.
A number of liver diseases are related to oxidative stress and silymarin provides the liver with important antioxidant protection. It also improves liver regeneration, reduces inflammation, and inhibits the formation of fibrous tissue (fibrogenesis) that is a hallmark of chronic liver disease.
Milk thistle seed extract also contains active compound known as flavonolignans, which can protect the cells of the liver from toxins as well as encourage cleansing and detoxification. When damage has already been done to liver cells, milk thistle can stimulate protein synthesis, thereby helping the liver to repair injury and generate new cells.
The seed extract protects the liver from a variety of common toxins, including alcohol, pesticides, heavy metal poisoning, pollution, and medications of all kinds. It has been used for more than two thousand years for medicinal purposes, and its use as a detoxifying agent and treatment for liver disease is well validated by research.
Milk thistle seed extract is an excellent tonic for anyone under stress. It is also useful for people who use alcohol, recreational drugs, anabolic steroids, as well as prescription medications. In addition, anyone living in a heavily polluted environment can benefit from supplements of milk thistle seed extract.
The herb has a gentle detoxifying effect, and its ability to increase bile secretion and flow in the intestines makes it effective as a mild laxative.
The active ingredients can be extracted with alcohol to produce a tincture, or pills can be prepared using the seeds. Milk thistle teas made from bulk seed are also available, but very little of the active ingredient is present in steeped teas.
HOW TO ENJOY
The young stalks, leaves, roots and flowers can be eaten. Milk thistle root can be eaten raw or cooked.
Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked however the very sharp leaf-spines must be removed first. When cooked these leaves make a great spinach substitute.
Flower buds can be cooked.
The stems can be eaten raw or cooked. They are best when peeled and soaking is recommended to reduce the bitterness.
Milk thistle can be used like asparagus or rhubarb or added to salads. They are at their best when used in spring when they are young.
Roasted milk thistle seeds can be used as coffee substitute.
There are no known serious side effects, contraindications, or drug interactions related to the use of milk thistle preparations. Loose stools may occur during the first few days of use. Always consult your physician prior to using any herbal remedies.
Some people may get a rash from touching milk thistle plants.
No matter how healthy you might be, your liver can always use some TLC. Milk thistle protects this hard-working organ so it can continue doing its important job properly.
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