The unique power behind this botanical is its phytonutrient silymarin (of which there are an array, so silymarins, if you will). Silymarin(s) are the active (aka bioactive) responsible for milk thistle’s many benefits in the body.* Hence that botanical genus species combination we previously mentioned: Silybum marianum.
Supplementing with this milk thistle plant extract can practically look like anything from taking a capsule to drinking milk thistle tea. As mbg's vice president of scientific affairs, Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains, "Silymarin will sometimes be isolated from the milk thistle seed extract to be featured in products, while other supplements will leverage native silymarins in their full spectrum, and well, glory."
Because it's an herbal remedy, milk thistle has traditionally been paired with other herbs to create complex formulas that enhance activity and efficacy, says Robinett. She shares that silymarin pairs well with licorice root, turmeric, and other herbs (depending on the intended use, of course).
Although supplements typically utilize the seed, milk thistle leaves can also be used as a digestive bitter that’s helpful for supporting digestion, detoxification, elimination, longevity, and more.* Ferira adds that, "milk thistle leaves and flowers can even be leveraged in your diet, acting as a vegetable on salads and other meals."
Let’s get into the details of milk thistle’s benefits, why it might be featured in a supplement, and whether or not this long-standing herbal remedy still adds value to our modern world.