Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle (Da Ji)

Botanical Name: Western – Silybum Adans (marianum). Eastern – Cirsii Japonici.

Milk thistle has been historically depicted in heraldry, art, and poetry. It is revered as an outstanding liver medicine, tonic, and food. Milk thistle is used to treat cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, and gallbladder disorders. The active constituent in milk thistle is silymarin which is especially known for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is particularly used to treat the liver but can also be used to treat the kidneys and gallbladder. It is often suggested as a treatment for alcoholic hepatitis and drug rehabilitation. The herb is being studied for possible anticancer properties.

Below is an overview of Milk Thistle (Da Ji), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Milk Thistle (Da Ji).

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Western Name: Milk Thistle

Also Known As: Mediterranean Milk Thistle, Blessed Milk Thistle, St. Mary’s Thistle, Wild Artichoke (not to be confused with Artichoke), Our Lady’s Thistle, Holy Thistle, Virgin Thistle, Christ’s Crown

Organs/Systems: Liver, Kidney, Heart, Lung, Bladder and Uterus, Skin

Key Actions: Liver Tonic, Antioxidant, Anticancer, Anti-inflammatory

Medicinal Uses: Hepatitis, jaundice, detoxes from over eating, drinking, and indulging. Liver disease. Liver tonic typically used for liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (inflammation), toxin induced liver damage, and gallbladder disorders. Lowers cholesterol, reduces insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes, and reduces cancer growth, improves liver post chemotherapy, nephropathy due to diabetes. Drug rehabilitation. Galactagogue.


Pin Yin: Da Ji

Also Known As: “Big Thistle” or Japanese Thistle, Shui Fei Ji (milk thistle seeds)

Meridians: Silybum Adans (marianum) – Liver, Heart. Cirsii Japonici – Liver, Spleen.

Key Actions: Silybum marianum – Removes Stagnation, Promotes Urination, Drains Yin, Dispels Cold, Stimulates Qi, Removes Blood Stasis, Stops Bleeding, Benefits the Skin. Cirsii Japonici – Stops Bleeding, Cools Blood, Lowers blood pressure, Reduces Swelling, Regenerates Flesh.

Medicinal Uses: Silybum marianum – Constipation, liver and gallstones, headache, jaundice, heavy limbs, depression, dizzy, edema, menstrual cramps, amenorrhea, hemorrhage, heavy menses, urogenital discharge due to damp cold, rashes, varicose veins, ulcers. Cirsii Japonici – Reckless movement of blood resulting in nosebleed, vomiting blood, blood in urine or stools, used for sores and topically for carbuncles, sores, swellings.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Milk thistle is in the daisy family, Asteraceae. It grows as an annual or biennial plants. Its erect stem is tall, branched, and furrowed but not spiny. Large alternate leaves are waxy-lobed, toothed and thorny. The flower is disc shaped and pink to purple in color. There are solitary heads at the end of the stem. It is native to the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East and is now found throughout the world. It is possibly native to southeastern England.

Parts Most Frequently Used: Seed, Root, Leaf, Stem, Flower

Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Cool, Warm, Dry

Caution: Considered safe, however touching the thorns on the plant can cause a rash in some people, so wear gloves while harvesting fresh plants.

History/Folklore: Milk thistle seeds are considered one of the most important liver herbs available. Its potent extract called silymarin is used for liver support and is the only substance known to protect, revive, heal, detox, and generate new liver cells. Milk thistle protects liver cell membranes while regenerating new cells. Milk thistle stimulates protein synthesis in the liver, helping new cells to form and grow. Remember, the liver’s main functions are to process nutrients from food, make bile, remove toxins from the body and build proteins. Therefore, protecting and strengthening this organ is important for your whole body.

Milk thistles name derives from its leaves that are one, mottled with splashes of white, and two, contain milky sap.

Milk thistle can be used to treat the toxic effects of acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can cause liver damage when used in high doses. Milk thistle is often suggested for treatment for alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver, radiation, viral hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.

The active constituent in milk thistle is silymarin. Silymarin is a group of flavonoids (silibinin, silydianin, and silychristin) that are known for repairing liver cells damaged by alcohol and other toxic substances. It is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant property.

Milk thistle may interfere with the following medications because both milk thistle and these medications are broken down by the same liver enzymes: allergy drugs (Allegra), Drugs for high cholesterol (including statins such as lovastatin, Mevacor, Altocor), Anti-anxiety drugs (Xanax, Valium, and Ativan), Anticoagulant drugs and blood thinners (Plavix and Coumadin), and some cancer drugs. Check with your healthcare provider if you are considering using milk thistle, especially as part of a detoxing program.

New research indicates that milk thistle aids weight loss due to its ability to assist the break down of fats in the blood and body.

Due to milk thistles strong anti-inflammatory properties, research is revealing milk thistles effectiveness in treating asthmatic conditions, inflammatory skin conditions and type 2 diabetes.

Milk thistle also helps lower cholesterol reducing the chance of strokes and related heart problems.

Milk thistle has been shown to have anticancer effects on both breast and prostate cancers and can protect the kidneys against toxicity from chemotherapeutic substances.

Milk thistle supports immunity and stimulates neurons, helping to reduce the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease. It is also showing signs of helping to improve bone health, by helping to prevent estrogen deficiency-induced bone loss.

A potent liver tonic recipe combines milk thistle seeds, dandelion root, artichoke, and turmeric root. This combination heals, soothes, detoxifies and gently stimulates the liver.

In China, the seeds (Shui Fei Ji) are used specifically to protect the liver, increase bile production and to protect against oxidative exposure, including oxidative exposure from radiation treatments. It is also commonly used in China to treat cirrhosis, gallbladder ailments and as an antioxidant and antiviral.

Even though it has been used as a medicine for over 2,000 years in many cultures, it has often been considered an invasive weed. The herb has always been particularly popular in Greece, Italy and Germany. In European folk medicine, is has been used as a liver tonic, mild laxative, hangover relief and to treat motion sickness and warts.

The Roman herbalist, Pliny the Elder described milk thistle as “excellent for carrying off bile.” The Ancient Greeks and Romans used milk thistle to treat snake bites and liver diseases.

In Ayurvedic medicine, milk thistle is used to enhance immunity, treat psoriasis and as a liver tonic.

Arab herbal medicine has a tradition of using milk thistle to treat infertility, poisoning, sexual dysfunction and liver disease.

In tincture or extract forms, either alcohol or glycerin are used as the base.

Roasted milk thistle seeds have been used as a coffee substitute.

Milk thistle seeds are best harvested when the artichoke looking parts become swollen. Using a knife you can cut this artichoke looking section in half and you will seed the seeds in the center.

In the Language of Flowers, the thistle (like the burr) is an ancient Celtic symbol for noble character and birth.

Due to its prickles, wounding or provoking the thistle plant yields its own punishment. Disarmed of its prickles, the young leaves can be boiled and are considered an excellent blood tonic and cleanser.

Milk thistle extract made from its leaves are also used to inhibit corrosion of steel and as an antioxidant food packaging material. Bio-diesel is also being made from milk thistle oil.

Key Constituents:

Silymarin (a group of flavonoids (flavone lignans) including Silibinin, Silidanin, and Silychristin), Tyramine, Histamine, Gamma linoleic acid, Essential oil, Mucilage, Flavonoids, Dehydrosilybin, Desoxy-silydianin, Silybinomer, Betaine, Trimethyglycine, Amines, Sterols, Campesterol.

Did you know?

Eat Like Artichokes

Milk thistle roots can be eaten raw or boiled, buttered, par-boiled, or roasted. Spiny bracts on flower heads are eaten like artichokes.


Emblem of Scotland

The thistle has been the national emblem of Scotland since the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286) and was issued on silver coins by James III in 1470.

Fun fact!

Winnie the Pooh

In Winnie the Pooh, the thistle is Eeyore’s favorite food.

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