Our Bi-Monthly Botanist: The Benefits of Milk Thistle

Thousands of years ago, Hippocrates, the father of medicine from the beautiful island of Kos, said, “Let your medicine be your food and your food become your medicine.”

Modern medicine, pharmaceuticals and cosmetology are increasingly focusing on ‘natural ways’ of treating diseases and wellness, giving well-deserved room for alternative forms of healing to expand.

A typical example of this is milk thistle (scientific name Silybum marianum).  Milk thistle is widespread throughout Greece. It is indigenous almost everywhere but seems to prefer the Mediterranean climate. With a distinctive pink bloom surrounded by many tough thorns, a ‘headache’ to scuffle with in our gardens and yards, but a great snack for donkeys, milk thistle is a trademark of the Greek countryside.

The substance that is contained in the thistle (Silymarin) has been used for many centuries to improve liver function. Today’s botanists and phytotherapists have studied its use and consider it important to protect the liver of those suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cholesterol.

People can buy various forms of milk thistle – either in the form of capsules or plant extract (drops) – always consulting with a doctor first.

Rich in antioxidants and other substances, all of its parts (flower, stem and seeds) can be consumed – either as a decoction or for cooking. In some parts of Greece, it gives a special flavor to the various traditional hortopites of the different regions, but also complements meat dishes as well.

Thus, the plant that grows alone in our respective gardens and does not excite us so much aesthetically, conceals centuries of secrets for our well-being, giving it value and well-deserved praise in Greek nature.

The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before each herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially those who are pregnant or are under the age of 6.

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist and an MSc in Botany PhD candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education & Science Communication.


Flavorful recipes incorporating seasonal ingredients are a staple of the healthy Greek diet.

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