That gorgeous, but horrible weed we mow down and spritz ever year is not our enemy. It is a shame how many times we have cleared the back yard of a beneficial plant, then gone to the health food store to pay a bundle for extracts of that same plant!

Milk Thistle is that plant. It is also called Silybum marianum and it has been used in herbal medicine for over 2,000 years. The most common uses is to treat liver and gallbladder problems.

What is in milk thistle? According to the University of Maryland Medical Center webpage, a flavonoid complex called silymarin comes from milk thistle seeds. This is not hard science but the silymarin is said to be the active ingredient. There have not been a lot of good human trials to prove that milk thistle does anything, which is hard to understand.

The liver: Milk thistle protects the liver from toxins like acetaminophen (Tylenol). Tylenol can cause liver damage in high doses. Silymarin also offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It may also help the liver by helping to generate new cells. This is also promising, but not proved for Hepatitis and cirrhosis from alcoholism.

Mushroom Poisoning and cancer are also helped with Milk Thistle seed extract.

There is more at the University of Maryland web page:
Now for the food! the leaves of the Milk Thistle plant are scary, but edible! In fact, most of the plant is edible. Milk Thistle leaves can be brewed into tea that rivals dandelion tea in qualities.


Here are cooking tips from Terry Morrison from Garden

For the spiky leaves, don some gloves and be careful not to get poked.

Wash the leaves in a colander and dry them.

You want to eat the middle rib, not the leaf.

Cut out the middle rib and strip of the stringy fibers.

Put the middle ribs in a pot and cover with water or stock

Cook until tender.

Get rid of the broth! It contains some serious medicines that might affect your heart.

Use the cooked ribs as any other vegetable.


Peniless Parenting has a lot of information and basic cooking tips:

Cut off the thorns with scissors

Cut out the middle rib

You have a leaf that is full of nutrition.

Cut up and eat raw in or as a salad.

They fry and come out like potato chips

Boil and eat like cooked spinach. In fact, it tastes like spinach.


These are steeped in water for tea.

So, we have a way to battle a very hearty weed: by eating it!

I used to battle a half acre of this stuff every year. The field could not be mowed until they dried out every spring, so the weeds would grow like monsters. I see them everywhere now, and wonder why more people cannot get healthy food simply by foraging and clearing them out at the same time!

Photos by Xenonlit c 2011 all rights reserved