Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
(introduced by Europeans to the US)
Milk thistle has been a part of my life and practice for about 15 years, now. However, I’ve been getting to know this herbal ally more and more lately as she grows so heartily out here in Coastal CA. In the past, I hadn’t spent much time in person with this plant.
Last year, I juiced her early spring leaves and enjoyed that combined with ginger, honey and lemon juice. This year, I’ve been taking a capsule in the evening to clean up any residual viral funk (for lack of better words) that has been floating around my system.
Milk thistle is a digestive bitter and has many wonderful qualities. But, I want to highlight its action on the liver.
The seeds are commonly used in herbal medicine. However, the young leaves can also be used and I’ve read that the early spring leaves were cooked and eaten in Scotland (after cutting off the spiky outer edges). The most potent medicine is in the seeds, though.
Milk thistle has constituents that encourage the proliferation of Kupffer cells in the liver (and they keep them from creating too many inflammatory chemicals). These Kupffer cells are macrophages that do the dirty work of protecting the liver cells from microbial or viral damage. They are key players in a healthy immune response.
The pictures I shared are from a stand of milk thistle that grew this year because my daughter and I had found a more distant stand (meaning more distant from the trail) and brought it to this log to process the seed heads. I wanted to show my daughter what the seeds looked like. Well, and I wanted to show her how hard they are to get from those seed heads — talk about ouch!
Sometimes it is easy to understand why you pay what you do for things like milk thistle seeds. Believe me, y’all — it’s worth it to buy the seeds from someone how has the industrial means to extract them.
You really do need leather gloves and a good stone to pound those seed heads…
In the process of exploring milk thistle, we scattered seeds all around where the log was near the trail.
This year we had a lovely stand of milk thistle. And, oddly enough, none of the milk thistle from the stand further from the trail grew from its seed this year.
So, I’m glad we could keep this patch of milk thistle going by doing a little wild gardening.
Notes on milk thistle, liver health, and the dream time
It’s interesting. My husband started to take milk thistle capsules in the evening to support his liver (he has some mild skin issues we are working on). I decided to join him as who in the modern world (especially America) doesn’t need some liver support?
Sadly so. We all do.
We’ve both noticed that our dreams have been more memorable, interesting, and revealing. This made me think that the liver must play an essential role in the quality of dreams that we have. It must be directly related to the soul realm of dreams.
(Our quality of sleep has bettered, as well.)
So, I decided to research liver + soul + dream a bit. And, I’m not surprised that TCM has some insights for me.
Here is what this author writes about ‘hun’ and the liver being the seat of the soul (at least the closest thing in TCM to soul):
“During our lifetime, it is the hun which bestows the gifts of Wood upon us. A healthy hun allows us to be clear about our purpose in life, find our path, know where we’re going and orient ourselves in that direction. It is what helps us to navigate the rapids of life. The hun is like the map and compass of our soul.
It is said that during the day the hun resides in the eyes to help us to see how we can act in ways that best serve our life purpose. At night when we sleep, the hun descends to the liver where it organises our dreams. Thus the hun acts as an intermediary between our waking and sleeping states.”
Contraindications for milk thistle — as far as I know, the main contraindication would be people who are effected by oxalates in plants