Milk Thistle is native to the Mediterranean region but it is now found throughout the world. This stout thistle usually grows in dry, sunny areas. The spiny stems branch at the top, and reach a height of 5 – 10 feet. The leaves are wide, with white blotches or veins. Milk thistle gets its name from the milky white sap that comes from the leaves when they are crushed. The flowers are red purple. The small, hard skinned fruit is brown, spotted, and shiny. Milk thistle spreads quickly (it is considered a weed in some parts of the world), and it matures quickly, in less than a year.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used for thousands of years as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly liver, kidney, and gall bladder problems. Several scientific studies suggest that substances in milk thistle (especially a flavonoid called silymarin) protect the liver from toxins, including certain drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can cause liver damage in high doses. Silymarin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it may help the liver repair itself by growing new cells.