Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is also commonly known as Scotch thistle, and various names associated with Mary, St Mary or Marian. It originated in southern Europe and Asia, but is now found worldwide. The plant has been medicinally used for at least 2,000 years, and is traditional in Chinese medicine to promote the flow of bile, soothing the liver and helping to rid it of toxins.
It is believed to be beneficial in the treatment of liver diseases such as jaundice, cirrhosis and hepatitis; studies suggest the presence of properties that would help to protect liver cells against invasive toxins, owing to a component flavonoid named silymarin. It's thought that it can even aid liver repair by helping the growth of new cells.
Silymarin has known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a valuable ally in the immune system to fight free radicals, and to reduce inflammation and cholesterol levels in the cardiovascular system. Silymarin may also benefit diabetes patients as it can help decrease blood sugar levels.
Milk thistle can also directly counteract poisoning by death cap mushroom (if administered quickly enough), help prevent gallstones and combat liver damage by excessive usage of some drugs, notably Tylenol and alcohol.