Milk thistle history is quite vast. Humans have used milk thistle for over 2,000 years. In Roman times, Pliny the Elder wrote about the effective power of milk thistle. In Greek times, the doctor Dioscoriodes authored a book on approximately 600 medicinal plants and herbs. The doctor mentioned milk thistle tea as a remedy for snakebites.
In the Middle Ages, people used the plant to help with liver ailments, much like today. Early Christians called the plant Mary’s thistle or St. Mary’s thistle.
Shortly afterwards, in the sixteenth century, John Gerard wrote in his Anatomie of Plants that milk thistle could help with depression and emotional distress. Europeans continued to use milk thistle for this purpose. At that time, people consumed all parts of the plant, including the roots and the milk of the herb. Later, in the seventeenth century, physician and herbalist Nicolas Culpeper claimed that milk thistle can help the liver by unblocking it, when necessary, and could also help cure jaundice. Jaundice occurs when one’s skin, eyes and urine become more yellow than normal due to a chemical imbalance within the body.
In the 1800’s, people used milk thistle for additional ailments, including irregular menstruation, varicose veins, kidney, liver and spleen problems. Today, milk thistle is still an effective cure for these ailments.
Milk thistle is native to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of the Mediterranean. However, it can be found around the world. Many gardeners consider it a weed due to the speed with which it grows. Milk thistle can grow to be ten feet high, and its stem has spines and thorns. The purple flowers can each contain up to 190 seeds, which have the most medicinal benefit as they contain silymarin, the effective ingredient in milk thistle extract.
Milk thistle has been used medicinally all around the world. Many of civilization’s earliest botanists and pharmacists in ancient Greece and Rome used milk thistle to aid in bile-related problems, which, as we know, is produced by the liver. It has been used in Europe since the Middle Ages to treat everything ranging from depression to venomous bites. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is known as ‘shui fei ji’ and is said to clear heat and remove toxicity.