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Milk Thistle (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - History

Milk thistle has been used for more than 2,000 years, primarily as a treatment for liver dysfunction. The oldest reported use of milk thistle was by Dioscorides, who recommended the herb as a treatment for serpent bites.[1] Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79) reported that the juice of the plant mixed with honey is indicated for "carrying off bile."[1,2] In the Middle Ages, milk thistle was revered as an antidote for liver toxins.[1,2] The British herbalist Culpepper reported it to be effective for relieving obstructions of the liver.[1,2] In 1898, eclectic physicians Felter and Lloyd stated the herb was good for congestion of the liver, spleen, and kidney.[1,2] Native Americans use milk thistle to treat boils and other skin diseases. Homeopathic practitioners used preparations from the seeds to treat jaundice, gallstones, peritonitis, hemorrhage, bronchitis, and varicose veins.[2] The German Commission E recommends milk thistle use for dyspeptic complaints, toxin-induced liver damage, hepatic cirrhosis, and as a supportive therapy for chronic inflammatory liver conditions.[3]

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  1. Flora K, Hahn M, Rosen H, et al.: Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) for the therapy of liver disease. Am J Gastroenterol 93 (2): 139-43, 1998.
  2. Foster S: Milk Thistle: Silybum marianum. Rev. ed. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council, 1999.
  3. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, et al., eds.: The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council, 1998.
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Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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