If you’ve ever wandered through a country meadow, you were probably entranced with the stunning display of seasonal wildflowers. Some of these lovely ladies of the field are classified as weeds, but you’d never know by looking. In addition to colorful blossoms, they might also have thorns or sharp leaves, like milk thistle.
What is Milk Thistle?
This iconic plant grows wild throughout Europe and North America and is the national symbol of Scotland. But don’t let its dainty pink puffy blooms fool you. Beneath the puffs are a ring of pointed leaves that are as sharp as needles.
As the purplish-pink puffs die down, they turn into white downy threads like a dandelion. As the wind blows, the gossamer thistledown breaks away from the plant and carries the seeds far and wide to create new plants. Early monastic followers prized this prickly plant for its medicinal properties and claimed that the milky white veins in its leaves were like milk from the Virgin Mary, hence its name.
Whether you call it milk thistle or St. Mary thistle, the seeds from this plant have been an herbal remedy used for centuries. The seeds can be eaten or ground into a powder to make a soothing coffee substitute or tea. Additionally, St. Mary thistle can also be cold-pressed to extract its healing essential oil.
Harvesting the Goodness
Did you know you can also cut away the sharp points of the thistle leaves and turn them into a tasty summer salad that is rich in vitamins and minerals? The flowers and roots can be dried and have been prepared as a culinary delight for centuries.
St. Mary thistle is a common herbal remedy available at most health food stores and in the vitamin section of your local supermarket. Thankfully, you can purchase seeds whole, ground, or filled capsules. Its essential oil is also available in stores or online.
This plant grows abundantly in meadows and parks, and you can harvest it yourself. Be careful to wear heavy gloves because the spiny leaves are sharp and can cause painful sticks. You must harvest the thistle in bloom or after it’s dried to collect the seeds. Additionally, be sure that it’s hasn’t been sprayed with weed killer.
10 Possible Benefits from Taking Milk Thistle
1. Promoting a Healthy Liver
Perhaps one of the most recognizable benefits of St. Mary’s thistle is that you can take it for liver health. Nearly two thousand years ago, an Ancient Greek scientist was the first to write about this plant’s supposed medicinal properties. Years later, the Romans promoted St. Mary’s thistle as medicine for diseased livers.
2. Reducing Bad Cholesterol
When you visit your primary healthcare provider, you probably get a blood test that checks your blood’s total cholesterol. It’s a fatty substance found in all your body’s cells, and it helps many necessary systemic functions. Not only does your body produce cholesterol, but you get it from eating fatty foods.
While your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to live, too much can be a health hazard. HDL called good cholesterol and is found in healthy fat food sources like fish and avocados. Fatty meats, meat-derived cooking oils, and most junk food can build up your bad cholesterol, or LDL.
If you allow cholesterol to build up like a sticky plaque in your vascular system, it can block vital blood flow, causing cardiac arrest, strokes, certain cancers, and premature death. Some preliminary studies suggest that St. Mary’s thistle may lower bad cholesterol numbers in individual patients.
3. Reducing Insulin Resistance in Diabetics
Diabetes is a serious disorder that affects at least 35 million adults and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Type I diabetes formally called juvenile, often presents in childhood, and it’s caused by the inability of the pancreas to create insulin to regulate the body’s blood sugar levels. People of any age can develop Type 2, a condition where your body can make insulin but can’t use it correctly.
Unlike Type I, Type 2 can often be managed or reversed with proper diet, exercise, and medication. Although more research is needed, a few studies show a positive correlation between using St. Mary’s thistle and a reduction in the insulin resistance of Type 2 diabetes. Talk to your diabetes specialist about how this plant may help your situation.
4. Supporting Weight Loss
Are you among the 43 percent of Americans who are fighting the battle of the bulge? Health experts remain concerned about the rising epidemic of obesity in this country, especially among children. Regardless of the multi-billion- dollar diet & fitness industry, there’s still no fad or magic bullet for miracle weight loss. It takes time, effort, and a willingness to change over to a healthier lifestyle.
If you are trying to lose weight, perhaps milk thistle may help you. It probably won’t do anything unless you reduce your calorie intake and rev up your exercise habits. Studies in mice have shown promise, as well as limited anecdotal evidence in humans.
5. Minimizing Certain Cancers from Spreading
No matter who you are or where you live, chances are good that you or someone you know has battled cancer. Fortunately, steady research in medicine, therapies, and techniques has brought the world closer to a cure than it was just a decade ago.
One of the dreaded symptoms of most cancers is their propensity to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Experts in alternative treatment for cancer continue to study certain herbs and plants like milk thistle, which may reduce the chances of metastases. Of the many cancers they study, colorectal cancer may hold the most promise.
6. Supporting Bone Health
Without your sturdy and protective skeletal framework, your body would be a helpless blob of skin and internal organs. Your bones also produce red and white blood cells that make up the vital parts of your blood. Calcium and Vitamin D are just a few of the vital nutrients and minerals your bones need to stay healthy and strong.
While testing the possible benefits of milk thistles, some studies demonstrate that it can support bone health. Supplements made from this plant might strengthen your bones and help prevent brittle bone disease and osteoporosis. It may be worthwhile discussing it with your bone specialist, especially if you are a woman.
7. Boosting the Immune System
The human body is a phenomenal machine that can protect and heal itself. Your spleen, particular hormones, lymphatic system, white blood cells, and parts of your brain are responsible for guarding your body against invading microbes that cause disease and sickness. The white blood cells are your first line of defense in the attack.
Did you know that St. Mary’s thistle may stimulate your immune system and help you fight disease? Some studies have provided positive results in test tubes that extractions from this plant can stimulate cells in your body to produce antibodies. Experts continue to explore the possibilities of using it as an immunity booster.
8. Improving Brain Function
In this stressful world, who doesn’t need a jumpstart of brainpower? As you get older, it’s normal for some memory and cognition to slip a bit. However, brain specialists and psychologists recommend that you continually challenge and exercise your mind to improve cognitive skills.
In recent studies of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, researchers have noted that undue stress may contribute to these mind debilitating disorders. Since alternative medicine experts see positive results in taking milk thistle and reducing stress, it may also help improve your brain’s vital functions.
9. Reducing Inflammation from Asthma Allergies
If you have asthma, you know the struggle it can be to breathe and cope with the accompanying allergic reactions. It’s estimated that at least 25 million people in the United States have some form of asthma. When your asthmatic symptoms are flaring up, your bronchial tubes become inflamed, and breathing becomes difficult.
To combat these allergic reactions from asthma, you may take preventative drugs and rescue inhalers when symptoms are threatening. Some herbal remedies like milk thistle have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can help soothe your airways during a mild to moderate allergic reaction.
10. Promoting Healthy Skin
In the past, people couldn’t browse through their local pharmacy or supermarket for creams and lotions for their complexion. Instead, they turned to Mother Nature’s abundant resources for plants and herbs that kept their skin glowing and healthy.
Do you want radiant skin without paying a fortune for some luxury brand skincare products? You may be surprised to find that herbs like St. Mary thistle have been used for generations to clean and hydrate the skin. This plant’s essential oil has antioxidants that fight harmful free radicals and helps your skin look more youthful and attractive.
Before you try St. Mary thistle or any other herbal supplement, discuss it with your primary healthcare provider. Some herbal treatments react negatively with certain medications, so tell your provider about your medical history and any medications or supplements you are taking.