History of Milk Thistle till recent years.
- Botanical Information of Silybum marianum.
- Phytochemicals and Constituents of Milk Thistle Seed.
- History of Milk Thistle till recent years.
- Applications and functions of Milk Thistle and its constituents.
- Administration Guide and Safety of Milk Thistle Preparations.
- Pharmacology finding of Milk Thistle.
- The Awesome Power of the Milk Thistle.
- Research Update of Silybum Marianum and its constituents.
- Photo Gallery of Silybum marianum.
History of Milk Thistle till recent years.
Milk thistle gets its name from the thick white fluid that seeps from the leaves when they are broken. Its long leaves have prominent white veins and sharp spines that can scratch unprotected skin. Purple or pink flowers that grow individually on tall stems bloom in mid-to-late summer. Each milk thistle plant has up to 50 flowers; each flower contains about a hundred seeds. The seeds resemble dandelion seeds, since they are attached to feathery structures that blow in the wind. Thought to have originated in areas around the Mediterranean Sea and possibly regions of India, milk thistle is now found growing wild in most parts of the world with moderate temperatures,including Canada, Europe, and the United States. It grows as an annual in cooler climates or a biennial in bush that can be as tall as ten feet and that has a very strong taproot. Because it spreads rapidly, grows in marginal areas such as vacant lots, and crowds out other plants; milk thistle is often considered to be a weed. It may poison cattle and other livestock that eat large amounts of whole plants.
Surprisingly, the herb milk thistle is far more popular and well-known in the Old World. Europeans have developed ancient traditions of using milk thistle both in medicine and as a vegetable.
The matter is that Silybum marianum (the botanical name for milk thistle) is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. It is a sort of thistles from the genus Silybum Adans. Sometimes people treat the plant as a weed, which, however, is the potent medicinal herb.
Milk thistle (other names are Holy thistle, Marian Thistle, Our Lady's thistle, Wild Artichoke) is a tall plant (generally 2 to 5 feet high, sometimes up to 10 feet) with an erect, branched and furrowed but not spiny stem. It has large, thorny green root leaves, which are attached to the stem without petiole; the upper leaves have a clasping base.
The characteristic feature of the plant's leaves is that they have milk-white veins. The ancient legend says that it was Virgin Mary's milk that dropped onto the leaves and left white traces. That is why people believe that the herb has lactation improving abilities, therefore, is good for use by nursing mothers.
The flowers of milk thistle are red-purple and spiky; the small black shiny seeds are crowned with feathery tufts, which make it easy for the plant to spread in a field or a garden. Each flower-head produces about 190 seeds, harvested mostly in July or August. They remain viable for 9 (!) years.
The plant prefers well-drained soils and much sunlight, though it can also stand harsher conditions. Strange as it may seem, milk thistle needs some cold temperatures to produce more flowers; therefore, European climate is perfect for it.
For more than two thousand years milk thistle has been cultivated throughout Europe, but it was always especially popular in Greece, Italy, and Germany. Our ancestors used this herb for treating liver, kidney, spleen, and gallbladder diseases. They also healed serpents bites and mushroom poisoning with the plant preparations. Moreover, the tinctures were applied externally to the liver area to promote its protection and to the skin surface for relieving skin conditions.
Usually teas and tinctures were made of milk thistle seeds (when roasted they were used as coffee substitutes), but the whole plant was consumed as a vegetable: young stems and leaves were either boiled or eaten raw as salads.
During the last years the use of milk thistle is tested by multiple scientific studies, conducted mainly in Germany. The German Health Authorities (equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) founded a special Commission E, which is supposed to develop the rules (dosages, indications, and contraindications) of milk thistle preparations usage to promote the best health benefits.
Nowadays the plant becomes more familiar to the American consumers, too, gaining their confidence and trust in its power and health benefits. Since milk thistle is easy to grow, it is already cultivated in many states throughout the country.
Currently, milk thistle seeds are the part most commonly used in medicine. All the parts that grow above the ground may be used, however, to make extracts. In the past, milk thistle products have been used to stimulate the flow of breast milk in women who were breast-feeding infants. It was also a folk remedy for depression. Its leaves, roots, and stems have been eaten as a vegetable in some parts of the world, and its seeds may be toasted and boiled into a coffee-type beverage.
Then, about thirty years ago, German scientists undertook a chemical investigation of the fruits and succeeded in isolating a crude mixture of antihepatotoxic (liver protectant) principles designated silymarin, which is contained in the fruits in concentrations ranging from 1 to 4 percent. Subsequently, silymarin was shown to consist of a large number of flavonolignans, including principally silybin, accompanied by isosilybin, dehydrosilybin, silydianin, sily-christin, and others.
Unfortunately, silymarin is very poorly soluble in water, so milk thistle is not effective in the form of a tea. Studies show that such a beverage contains less than 10 percent of the initial activity in the plant material. This poor solubility, coupled with the fact that silymarin is relatively poorly absorbed (20 to 50 percent) from the gastrointestinal tract, make it obvious that the active principles are best administered parenterally, that is, by injection. Oral use requires a concentrated product. Milk thistle is marketed in this country as a dietary supplement in the form of capsules containing 200 mg of a concentrated extract representing 140 mg of silymarin. Toxic effects resulting from the consumption of milk thistle have apparently not been reported. Twenty-one cases out of 2,169 (1 percent) in an observational study did report transient gastrointestinal side effects. Otherwise, it is considered very well-tolerated and quite effective.
Milk thistle was brought to the United States and has adapted to life in the wild in California and along the East Coast. The sap is white and milky, perhaps explaining at least one of its common names. The white spots along the ribs of the leaves were said to have been drops of the Virgin Mary's milk. The herb was used in times past to help encourage milk production, but this may have been due to the name and the association.
The medicinal use of milk thistle goes back two thousand years. Pliny the Elder wrote of it, praising its value for "carrying off bile." Medieval herbalists also made use of this property, and in the sixteenth century English herbalists adopted it. It did not maintain its popularity, however, and by the early twentieth century only homeopaths were familiar with it. With a renewal of interest in herbal medicines, researchers started to investigate milk thistle scientifically in the 1950s. The part of the plant that is used is the small hard fruit with the fuzz (technically called "pappus") removed.
Milk thistle extract is occasionally used to stimulate the appetite, but its primary use is for liver and gallbladder problems. Silymarin in proprietary extracts has been shown, through animal research, to have the ability to protect the liver from a range of toxins, including carbon tetrachloride and the deadly poisons from the death-cap Amanita mushrooms. It is most effective when given six hours before exposure, although there is some benefit up to thirty minutes after exposure to the toxin. Pretreatment with silymarin also protects animals from liver damage due to alcohol. Silymarin seems to have a membrane-stabilizing activity that prevents toxins from getting into the cells, perhaps by competing for the receptors, or perhaps through antioxidant action and free radical scavenging. It also stimulates the synthesis of ribosomal RNA, an important step in cell regeneration, and inhibits lipid peroxidation.
- Milk Thistle:Silybum marianum,its botanical information,constituents,history,applications and administration guide.
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