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Milk Thistle: Food and Medicine

Jessica Morgan, M.H.Milk thistle is one of my favorite plants, but then again I am drawn to any of the thistles.

Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterized by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins, mostly in the Asteraceae family. These prickles often occur all over the plant - on surfaces such as those of the stem and flat parts of leaves. These prickly spines protect the plant against herbivorous animals, discouraging them from feeding on the plant. 

The term thistle is sometimes taken to mean exactly those plants in the genus Cynareae, especially the genera Carduus, Cirsium and Onopordum.  However, plants outside this genus are sometimes called thistles too. Some in the family include burdock, artichoke, cardoon, and some not in the family but are included in the thistles are salt wort and tumbleweed.

But, why do I love milk thistle so? Well because it's amazing.

Did you know, around the 16th century milk thistle became quite popular and almost all parts of it were eaten. The roots can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted. The young shoots in spring can be cut down to the root and cooked. The spiny bracts on the flower head can be eaten like globe artichokes, and the stems can be soaked overnight to remove bitterness and then cooked up like asparagus. The leaves can be trimmed of prickles and make a good spinach substitute, and can also be added raw to salads.This is another one of those eat your weeds kinda plants! This plant has been grown both as an ornamental and a vegetable, and virtually all parts of the plant have been used as food with no reports of toxicity.

Milk thistle is native to the Mediterranean region, and is now found throughout the world. This stout thistle usually grows in dry, sunny areas. The spiny stems branch at the top, and reach a height of 4 to 10 feet. The leaves are wide, with white blotches or veins. Milk thistle gets its name from the milky white fluid that comes from the leaves when they are crushed. The flowers are red-purple. The small, hard-skinned fruit is brown, spotted, and shiny. Milk thistle spreads quickly (it is considered a weed in some parts of the world), and it matures quickly, in less than a year.

But one can't stop at just the edible plant, it's medicinal too! The seeds of the milk thistle have been used for over 2000 years to treat chronic liver disease and protect the liver against toxins. It has been used for all liver diseases, hepatitis, cancer, mushroom poisoning and liver detox. By far the most famous herb for liver health, milk thistle contains antioxidant flavonoids, which protect liver cells from damage by preventing toxin absorption and enhancing regeneration.

Here a link to Dr. Christopher's run down on milk thistle.


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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Jessica Morgan, M. H., Morgan Botanicals.

Disclaimer - The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for self-diagnosis or to replace any prescriptive medication. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem, suffer from allergies, are pregnant or nursing.

Jessica Morgan, M.H.

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