Jun 092008

Working with liver issues as often as I do, you can bet I’ve dispensed a lot of Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) in my time. And for a long while, I rotated between giving a strong tincture and a strong decoction. I certainly saw results, but was always a bit frustrated by what felt like unlocked potential to me. I’d long suspected the best form of delivery was directly eating the seed, but I’ve had a very difficult time getting client compliance.

Over the last year though, I’ve discovered that if you grind the seed fine enough (to a fine powder) that it tastes really nice, especially in smoothies and apple sauce. This has way upped compliance, and seems more bioavailable when all ground up that way too. As a result, I’ve seen something like a tenfold increase in beneficial therapeutic results from this preparation.

It’s especially useful for those stabbing liver pains that occur from stress or bad food in people with viral hepatitis. I’ve seen them go from being a regular daily thing (even on a hardcore herb regimen and good diet) to non-existent in two to three weeks. If you’ve ever dealt with the frightening persistence of such pain, you’ll understand what a very good thing this is. Other benefits I’ve observed include a significant lessening in hepatitis related psoriasis and seeming increased immune response.

Current dosage I’m working with is 2-3 Tb per day for an adult male of average size. I’d like to increase that dosage to see if results also increase, but have to work based on what the individual will tolerate. I strongly recommend grinding your own seed for optimal freshness or getting it from a supplier who grinds when you make the order (instead of keeping bulk amounts of powdered herbs on hand, which tends to noticeably decrease the power of most plants). It does seem important to get a sizable material dose into the body for the best results.

I have noticed that Milk Thistle tincture will work fine for more minor issues, but that the more acute or intense cases really benefit from the ingestion of the actual seed. This also works better than large doses of isolated silymarin (surprise surprise). Milk Thistle is fairly neutral energetically, and I’ve rarely seen side effects from their usage, although there was one woman who found even small amounts of the seed to very loosening to her bowels. She felt that this was likely an energetic thing, rather than a consistent physiological reaction.

The taste is kind of malty, smooth and a bit oily, actually very yummy if you grind it fine enough to eradicate any grit. This plant is super easy to grow too, although you generally need to grow a whole garden full to get a useful amount of seed. Also, the plant seems to spread very very easily so be aware of invasiveness potential. It has beautiful milk colored dappled leaves and a nice presence in the garden if you can keep it under control.

  25 Responses to “Milk Thistle Preparations”

  1. Hello Kiva, I have been reading your site for a while now. This blog on milk thistle is coming at exactly the right time. I am in two different herbal apprenticeships currently. My dear friend’s mother is starting treatment for liver cancer and I was going to give her milk thistle.; I have been wondering about this however. I was hoping you could help me understand better what it does and if it would really actually be of benefit to her. I am worried that it could do harm, while I am meaning her healing. Of course I am not treating her, but was going to send her herbs that would support the process of kimo therapy. What my teacher has said is that it would really help in this case, but it feels like a shot in the dark for me. Thank you for your time, Aidan Clowes.

  2. Hi Aidan,

    Are you asking about what it does via biochemical processes as opposed to energetic processes?

    Here’s a quote from Sharol Tilgner regarding some constituents of Milk Thistle:
    “Silymarin is incoporated in cell membranes and increases the resistance of the membranes against injurious influences, probably by changing the physiochemical properties. It prevents the uptake of the mushroom toxins amanitin and phalloidin by competitive inhibition of receptors at the outer cell membrane and protects the liver against poisoning by organophosphate insecticides. It also stimulates RNA polymerase A, polymerase I, which enhances ribosome protein synthesis and and activates the regenerative capacity of the liver cells. Silibinin has been used on lab rats to protect them from glomerular and tubular damage from cisplatin”

    on a more hands on level, David Hoffmann says:
    “It is effective in increasing the secretion and flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder and may also have value in the treatment of chronic uterine problems… Well designed clinical research thoroughly supports the efficacy of milk thistle extract in protecting and treating the liver. Studies confirm that the herb can restore liver function impaired by disease, such as viral hepatitis, or by exposure to toxins…”

    Neither author lists any contradictions for use, or any drug interactions.

    As you can gather from the above quotes, our current understanding of the usage of Milk Thistle is rather general, which can really be a nice thing, when you want a nutritive, generally protective plant. Somewhere I have a more extensive explanation by Paul Bergner about the exact mechanism (and specifically why milk thistle wont protect your liver from PLAs in Comfrey etc).

    Whether it could be of benefit somewhat depends on what you’re trying to do… are you attempting to treat the liver cancer? If so, milk thistle has indeed been shown to prevent cancer in the liver and to assist in the regeneration of new liver tissue. You said you’re interested in helping her through chemotherapy too, and I do think that milk thistle could be of use as a general protectant in that case. From the limited info you provided, I do not see how or why it would do her harm. I view milk thistle as a powerful but food like herb. Tell her to start a little bit at a time and build up to a larger dose.

    There are of course very specific indications for the use of Milk Thistle, including the stabbing liver pain I mentioned earlier, another indication is a swollen liver or spleen. It’s considered very specific for liver damage done via solvents and other chemicals (alcoholism falls under this category).

    Hope this is helpful,
    Kiva Rose

  3. Hi Kiva,
    When I first saw that you had visited my blog, I thought you were my local friend, Kiva. Thank you for your visit. Here’s the first thing we made in medicine making class at CA School of Herbal Studied, Forestville, CA
    Called “Herb a Shake” by the teachers, Karen Aquilar and Terri Jensen.
    Grind together

    Milk Thistle seed
    Sesame Seeds
    Nutritional yeast
    They did not give amounts or proportions, up to you.
    Use as a sprinkle over salads, rice, beans, whatever.
    Another way to get the Milk Thistle seeds.

  4. Hi Kiva

    Do you harvest your own milk thistle, and if so, when do you pick the flowers?

  5. Hi Sandie… yes, I do grow some of my own milk thistle, but like i said above – you have to grow a ton of plants to get much seed, and they’re a real pain to process by hand…. i do it anyway but have to supplement with bought seed later in the year.

    you don’t pick the flowers at all, you pick the seedheads (after the flowers) when they get fluffy and start to want to float away, and when the seeds are fat and brown. it’s easy to tell because the seedheads fall apart if you so much as bump them. I just collect the whole heads and then process later. good gloves are useful here (and this is coming from someone who picks nettles bare handed).

  6. Thank you Kiva Rose.
    You answered my questions formed and not formed. My concern is to support my friend’s system throughout the chemotherapy using nurishing herbs and adaptogens. I had only a little experience with milk thistle on my own body. Not enough to really understand it’s interactions with other drugs, so thank you for your wonderful help.

  7. Thanks so much! I know a farmer down the road that has quite a lot of thistle blooming where he can’t farm the ground. My sister has liver issues from an accident, so I had hoped to supplement her supply of seed. Really appreciate the help!

  8. Hello Kiva,

    thank you for your info on Milk Thistle. I had liver resection about 6 years ago due to large liver cyst. I am monitored and have a few recurrent one that is 2 inches, no symptoms or discomfort. I have been using the M>T tincture for the last few years, maybe 2-3 times a week. Just bought seeds and thinking of grinding and eating w/yoghurt every day. Do you have any experience on what causes these cyts ?and avoiding their growth? Do you think M>T is helpful inthis case ?

    Thanks ,

  9. Milk thistle bites….literally. I consider the (count ’em-1!) plant that graces my garden, the queen of the place….You cannot brush against herand NOT notice; she’s very female, beautiful and prickly. She’s generous with her seed, but as most things, harvesting can come at a price, no matter, -most good things do, fair enough. I care for a miniscule container/ plus 2 flower beds garden, so of course, she dominates it, but she doesn’t ask for much, she’s low maintenance and beautiful, unlike most women of my acquaintance. Were there more room, there would be more milk thistle, I’d love to try pressing seed for lamp oil….
    Wishing you a belated Solstice,

  10. I’m working with milk thistle seeds, and wondering if it matters if they’re ground to a powder for them to be useful. With the equipment I’ve got, I can get the hulls off, and a little chopping, but that’s about it. I figure it’s got to be easier for a body to work on milk thistle seed without that hull–lots of nice fiber, in a twiggy sort of way, as part of the final mash, but surely it’s that lovely kernel that needs to come out. Nothing I’ve found suggests that it’s grinding, per se, that increases its bioavailability, but I’m wondering what others’ experience is.

  11. You can use a coffee grinder to powder them. The simple fact that more surface matter of the plant is exposed should increase the effect upon the body and lessen the chances of it going right though your digestive tract without being broken down.

  12. Thanks Kiva–I got a coffee grinder between my post and yours. You’re right about the taste–yummy, malty. Pretty good mixed with milk.

    Thanks for your site as well.

  13. Hi, I know this is a very old entry but I’m writing just in case you get this. I’ve been told milk thistle can also help treat acne and clear dry skin so I went to my local herbalist and bought one pound of the seeds which she ground up in a coffee grinder for me. She told me to eat about 1-2 tbsp every day. I have been doing this for about 3 months now, mixing it with orange juice or a smoothie. A pound of milk thistle lasted me 3 months, but I’m wondering if it gets less potent the longer it is ground up? I keep it in a ziploc bag inside of a paper bag in the fridge. Do you think it stays potent for that long? I really appreciate any help you can give me. Thanks!


  14. Hi Sara…. in general, I think 3 months is fine, especially in the fridge. I wouldn’t go much longer than that though. I tend to grind up my milk thistle every couple weeks, but sometimes I buy it pre-ground and I’ve not had any troubles with it. You’ll be able to smell and taste it if it starts to go rancid, in which case you’d want to get rid of it.

  15. Hi ,

    I made a milk thistle tincture today, but I couldn’t find anything in my herb books or online about powdering first. Only for taking it on a spoon or sprinkling it on food was it encouraged to powder. Except for Ricco Cech who said to powder it but I had already made it. Should I have ground it up first for the tincture, and if so, would it be too late to put it in the food processor or vitamix and do it mixed with the alcohol now?


  16. Hi Sanna, considering how hard the the seeds are, I do think it’s a good idea to at least grind them with a mortar and pestle before tincturing but it should be fine to go ahead and put it through the vitamix now (I say this in theory because I don’t have enough electricity to run a vitamix on solar power) but I definitely know it would be fine to take the seeds out, mash them up with a mortar and pestle and put them back in the alcohol.

  17. Sanna – the flavonoid group that’s considered the active in milk thistle seed (“silymarin”) is found on the inside of the seed coat … I don’t think you’ll get much joy from whole seeds, as a tincture.
    So yup, grind it to a slurry using your implement of choice, then pour it back into its jar for a few days before straining. Just don’t run the slurry so hot that it ignites – this _is_ alcohol, after all.

  18. Hi Kiva!

    How do you separate the Milk Thistle seeds from the fluff? I don’t dare winnow them the usual way because the little parachutes carry the seeds off — they will take over the planet. The seed heads are so prickly. The spines are like little needles that go right through gloves. Any special tecniques that you know of?


  19. I’ve always done it barehanded and just get stuck a lot, I’m sure there’s a better way though LOL. Maybe put it all in a bag and beat it a bit and see if they separate at some of the way?

  20. Dear Kiva

    I’ve been taking milk thistle capsules for a few years but am thinking of changing to seed. What is your opinion of the capsules readily available in health food stores? I want the maximum benefit from the best source but can’t seem to find any recommended daily dose anywhere. Are the capsules “money down the drain”? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  21. Thank you for this information!. Question gather the seeds in the fall, how long can I store the seeds? Main question.

    Secondary. Can I juice them in a (wheat-grass juicer) and do I need to add alcohol to extract the needed components? Thanks again. Nu-bee to all this

    • Hi Ed, if you store them in a cool, dry, airtight place they will definitely last at least a year. In the freezer or similar, probably at least two years. I always go through mine pretty quickly though, so I’m not sure beyond that.

      And… I have very limited solar electricity here so I don’t really know about the juicer at all… however, i do think that milk thistle seeds are best taken as a powder rather than extracted.

  22. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing very useful info on herbs
    I was looking for this for a long time and was really confused as to what might be the best way to use milk thistle and I found it here, everything is well clarified that I don’t feel a need to ask anything…
    We have many here suffering with hepatitis C and many who have some what recovered from the actual disease but with a compromised leaver I hope to collect a lot of milk thistle and distribute them among these guys..
    Thanks again..

  23. thanks for the info! was just doing research on whether a tincture is efficacious. now, instead of tincturing I will try adding it to smoothies, which is a frequent event for me. =)

  24. Thank you for this post, it’s been incredibly helpful to me. I’ve been hard-pressed to find any information on the effects of milk thistle seed alone, instead of in a tincture. Thanks again!

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