Milk thistle has actually been used for over 2,000 years. The plant is native to the Mediterranean region and a member of the Asteraceae plant family, which also includes other plants like sunflowers and daisies. The Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides was the first to describe milk thistle's healing properties back in the year 40 A.D.
Milk thistle gets its name from the milky-white liquid that runs off of the plant's leaves when they're crushed. The actual leaves of the plant also have a spotted white pattern that makes them look as if they have been dunked in milk.
Milk thistle benefits work by drawing toxins out of the body and protecting the liver from damage. Silymarin, which is derived from the milk thistle plant, has been used in traditional medicine as a natural remedy for diseases of the liver because of its potent antioxidant activity.
As an antioxidant, the benefits of milk thistle are similar to other healing nutrients, like vitamin E or vitamin C, which help fight free radical damage and slow the aging process that can lead to disease development. It specifically contains high levels of lipophilic extracts from the seeds of the plant, which act as bioflavanoid antioxidants that increase immunity and slow down oxidative stress.
One of the most common questions regarding this herb is what do you use milk thistle for. While it has many different benefits, milk thistle is most well-known for being a natural liver supporter and detoxifier. The liver constantly works hard to help defend us from toxins that are common in our everyday life, acting like a filter and removing harmful substances from the body. Milk thistle is shown to decrease, or even reverse, damage to the liver that's been caused by prescription medications, alcohol use, antibiotics, pollution, heavy metals and so on.
There are a variety of milk thistle products available. The seeds and leaves of the milk thistle plant can be consumed either in pill, powder, tincture, extract or tea form. The seeds can actually be eaten completely raw, too, but usually people prefer to take a milk thistle extract or supplement in order to consume a higher dose and see bigger results.