Milk Thistle: Celebration Without Consequence?

We all know the too-familiar symptoms that come as a result of overindulgence in food and drink at this time of year. But, is there anything we can do to help to relieve those symptoms, leaving us potentially free to celebrate without the consequences?

The obvious, but very unpopular answer, would be to avoid overindulging in food or drink in the first place… Of course, for many, this is simply not an option!

The other answer could lie in a traditional herbal remedy, known as milk thistle.


Milk Thistle is also referred to as Holy Thistle or Our Lady’s Thistle – whilst its posh Latin botanical name is Silybum marianum.  The plant has purple flowers with white veins, which traditional stories surrounding the plant say was caused by a drop of the Virgin Marys milk falling on to the leaves – which is why there are so many alternative religious names for this plant.

The Milk Thistle plant is generally found in Mediterranean Europe, the US and South America, preferring a warm climate for growth. Traditionally the leaves have been eaten in salads, and the fruit of the flower roasted and used as a coffee type drink.  It is the seeds however, which have long been of interest to traditional herbalists, who have used it for over 2,000 years.

The oldest reported use of Milk Thistle was as a treatment for serpent bites!  In the middle ages it was widely used as an antidote for ‘liver toxins’, whilst Native Americans used it for skin health.

These early preparations were produced without much knowledge about what or why the product actually helped, and varied wildly in strength, quality and levels of milk thistle seeds used.


Based on this long and varied history, Milk Thistle has been identified as a traditional herbal remedy which could potentially be helpful in reducing the symptoms associated with overindulgence, including indigestion and an upset stomach.

Modern products are also carefully controlled for quality, and are generally made using standardised extracts, which means that a specific level of the identified ‘active’ in the milk thistle are guaranteed to be present in every tablet.  

So for those looking for a bit of extra support, to try and relieve the symptoms associated with overindulgence during the festive season, based on traditional use, why not try some milk thistle?

Written by Jenny Logan DNMed (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years).

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