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Milk thistle: properties, what it is for and contraindications

Milk thistle, with the scientific name Silybum marianum and commonly called borriquero thistle in some countries, is a plant full of beneficial properties for the body.

If you have ever observed milk thistle, you may be surprised to discover that it is a species full of properties, because its wild appearance makes few really appreciate its benefits. However, these brightly colored plants can be great allies for our health, so it is worth knowing their qualities better. Next, from AgroCorrn, we tell you everything you need to know about milk thistle: properties, benefits, contraindications and how to use its benefits to improve your health.

What is milk thistle like

These are the main characteristics of milk thistle :

  • This species has its origin in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, although it is currently more widespread.
  • The Silybum marianum plant is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant that can reach heights of more than 3 meters, although its usual height in nature is 1.5 meters .
  • Its leaves, up to 40 cm long, are shiny and covered with thorns on the margins, which gives it that rugged appearance.
  • The stem of the plant is strong and thick, it is usually very little branched and culminates in a large flower , usually of a pink hue and protected by a large number of bracts in the form of thorns.
  • Its flower appears in the warm months, with the arrival of spring and until mid-summer. In addition, it should be mentioned that it is common to find this plant on the margins of rural roads or in open fields, and even on some occasions it can form a type of natural barrier.

Properties of milk thistle

The main property of this plant that should be highlighted is its action as a hepatoprotective agent. In other words, milk thistle is ideal for protecting the liver and helping to regenerate it . This property arises mainly from its high content in silymarin, a flavonoid, the most important component that is extracted from its seeds, harvested from its ripe fruits once the plant begins to dry. In addition, other active principles of this plant are: taxifolin, which is another flavonoid, linoleic, oleic and palmitic acid, mucilages, proteins and tyramine.

But there are other properties of milk thistle that are worth mentioning:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidants
  • Anti-allergenic
  • Astringents
  • Diuretics
  • Venotonic
  • Digestive
  • Colagogas
  • Hypoglycemic agents
  • Hemostasis
  • Antihemorrhagic
  • Febrifuge
  • Antidepressants

What is milk thistle for

Given its long list of properties, milk thistle is used as a natural remedy in the treatment of a wide range of ailments. Next, we will talk to you in more detail about the benefits of milk thistle :

  • It is an effective treatment for empachos and intoxications , as well as for poisonings from the consumption of certain species. It is also beneficial for lightening heavy digestions and for abdominal heaviness.
  • It is useful for the treatment of hepatitis , as well as that of fatty liver.
  • In cases of cirrhosis or other liver damage from consuming large amounts of alcohol, milk thistle can also help relieve some symptoms and discomfort.
  • It reduces the symptoms of seasonal allergies if it is used to support some other antihistamine.
  • Milk thistle has also been used at home to lower blood sugar levels .
  • Due to its anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties, milk thistle is also very beneficial for the treatment of inflamed urinary tract, so it is a good idea to take it before the symptoms of cystitis or prostatitis . You may also be interested in this article about the best medicinal plants for an enlarged prostate .
  • This plant is also capable of making some symptoms of menopause more bearable , we speak, for example, of hot flashes, intense migraines, night sweats, etc. If you want to combat these annoyances, do not miss this article on St. John’s wort – properties, benefits and contraindications , as it is another ideal plant for these problems.
  • It also helps to alleviate menstruation disorders or pains , as well as the general discomfort that accompanies it.
  • In case of circulation problems , milk thistle helps against numbness of extremities and can even be used to treat varicose veins and hemorrhoids, since it has stimulating properties ideal for these disorders and the ability to stimulate venous circulation.
  • If used topically, milk thistle is perfect for treating burns, wounds or sores , something that we must thank for its astringent properties.

How to take milk thistle

To take milk thistle there are different presentations: in infusion or decoction, in powder, in tincture, in fluid extract, pills and capsules. Thus, depending on the ailment to be treated or if it is taken as a food supplement, this plant will have to be prepared in one way or another. Here we detail a couple of ways to use this plant:

How to take milk thistle infusion

If you want to use the properties of this plant to make a natural liver protector , you will have to prepare an infusion. In this case, we advise you to include more plants, but you can do it with just the thistle.

  1. Mix in equal parts the seeds of the milk thistle, those of the caraway and, if you want, those of the lesser centaury. We also recommend adding boldo leaves and young stems of mint to enhance the flavor of the tea.
  2. Heat water in a pot. For example, if you want to have two cups of infusion to drink, we recommend that you add 3 cups of water to the pot, since part of it will evaporate.
  3. Remove the pot when the water starts to boil and add a tablespoon of the mixture for each cup of water.
  4. Cover the pot and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  5. Strain the mixture and keep only the liquid.

From AgroCorrn we advise you to drink 1 or 2 glasses a day and, if possible, take the first glass of this mixture of milk thistle on an empty stomach and the other before lunch, but never leave the mixture in the fridge for more than one night.

Milk thistle for topical use

If you want to treat wounds, burns or sores, you will have to mix milk thistle with horsetail, alfalfa, bistort root and sessile oak leaves in equal parts. Add 4 tablespoons of this mixture for each liter of water and boil for 4 minutes. After this time, let it rest for five minutes and proceed to strain the liquid. When the mixture is cold, soak compresses or gauze and carefully place them on the area to be treated.

Side effects and contradictions of milk thistle

Despite all its benefits, it is important not to abuse this plant , as is the case with practically all the species that are used to make natural remedies. In addition, there are cases in which it is essential not to take it without consulting a professional beforehand. Please note the following:

What side effects does milk thistle have

  • In excessive doses, milk thistle can have an unwanted laxative effect.
  • Keep in mind that this plant can cause dermatitis or itching in very sensitive skin.

Contraindications of milk thistle

  • Do not take this plant if you suffer from high blood pressure, since its hypertensive properties could worsen your condition.
  • Avoid its consumption also if you take antidepressants, as the plant is not compatible with these treatments and drugs of the MAOI type.
  • As a precaution, it is recommended to avoid its consumption also by pregnant and lactating women.
  • Despite its hypoglycemic capacity, it is essential that patients with diabetes consult their possible consumption with a specialist before taking this plant.

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