Milk thistle, a plant with a long stem, purple-ish flowers, and wide leaves, has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 2, 000 years. Also known as “St. Mary’s Thistle,” “Holy Thistle,” and “Blessed Thistle,” legend has it that as Mary sat under a milk thistle tree to nurse the baby Jesus, a drop of her milk fell, forever staining the plant’s leaves with white veins.
Nicholas Culpepper, a British herbalist, was first to record the value of milk thistle in treating diseases of the liver and spleen in the late eighteenth century. Recent studies show that active substances in milk thistle, particularly the antioxidant flavonoid silymarin, may protect the liver from damage caused by toxins, alcohol, and viruses, while also promoting the growth of new liver cells.