Milk thistle, native to Southern Europe and North Africa, van grow to more than 3 ½ feet in height. The herb, with its pretty, red violet flowers, spread to gardens and farms in other parts of Europe. According to traditional Christian thought, the white pattern on the leaves comes from the milk of the Virgin Mary - a belief that clearly manifests how prized milk thistle was as a medicinal plant. Today, it is primarily the seeds that are used medicinally. They have such powerfully protective and regenerative effect on liver cells that their main constituent, silymarin, is used to treat poisoning by the very deadly amanita phalloides mushroom. Even extreme cases of hepatitis and liver degeneration have shown improvement when treated with milk thistle seeds. A tea made with the seeds has also been used for skin, vein and gallbladder ailments.
Making the tea
Crush 1 tbsp. of milk thistle seeds in a mortar. Add to 3 cups of water and boil. Steep for about 20 min and strain. Drink 1 cup 30 min before meals in the morning, afternoon and evening, as well as just before going to bed. After 2-3 days, reduce your intake to 3 times a day.
Therapeutic Effect : The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, a combination of three different flavonoids that supports the walls of liver cells, preventing poisons from penetrating them. It also stimulates the regeneration of these cells. Bitter principles and amino acids help support the entire digestive system.
Silymarin as a liver tonic
People with acute liver problems should follow a six week treatment with tea made from milk thistle seeds several times a year. This tea treatment program is often recommended for people with liver damage caused by excess alcohol intake and cirrhosis.
How silymarin works
Silymarin helps prevent liver poisoning in two ways : it changes the liver cell walls in such a way that it is very difficult for poisons, such as carbon tetrachloride, to penetrate the walls. Silymarin also stimulates cell division so that new liver cells will grow continually.
For your health : Peppermint increases the effectiveness of milk thistle tea and improves its taste. When you make the tea, add 1 tbsp. of peppermint leaves to the mixture before boiling.
Tincture for intensive treatment
Silymarin is only partly water soluble, so for an intensive treatment to protect and regenerate liver cells, you should also use a tincture made from milk thistle seeds to increase the effect of the tea. Put 10 drops of the tincture into 1 cup of milk-thistle tea. This tincture can also be purchased in health food stores.
Caution : Because of its alcohol content, never use the tincture if you are suffering from acute liver inflammation or alcoholicm.
Leaf tea for aiding digestion
You can also make therapeutic teas from the leaves of the milk thistle. They do not contain silymarin, but they have an overall positive effect on the liver and gall bladder, and a tea made with them is valuable for improving digestion and for easing mild digestive complaints. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 ½ tsp of finely chopped leaves. Steep for 5-10 min and then strain. Drink 2-3 glasses per day.
Compresses for varicose veins
The external application of the tea in a compress can help varicose veins and open leg sores. Make the tea; cool. Soak a cloth in the cooled tea and apply as a damp compress 1-2 times per day.
Healing Tea Mixtures
To Promote liver health
1 oz. milk thistle seeds
½ oz. peppermint seeds
½ oz. fennel seeds
Prepare this tea with the above herbs. It is a therapeutic mixture that can be used over a long period of time to protect liver cells without side effects. Drink 3 cups of the tea per day.
For stomach complaints
1 ½ oz. milk thistle seeds
1 oz. dandelion plant and root
¾ oz. chicory root
¾ oz. fennel seeds
Prepare this tea with the above herbs. This mixture eases gastrointestinal problems, such as excess gas and upper abdominal discomfort, which may be the result of liver problems.
For venous pain and varicose veins
1 ½ oz. milk thistle seeds
1 oz. calendula flowers
1 oz. witch hazel leaves
Prepare this tea with the above herbs. It constricts open leg wounds; It strengthens the walls of the veins and seals the tissues around the wound. You can drink the tea, or use it to make a compress.