Milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum)

Milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum)

A legend of milk thistle

According to legend, when Holy Mary was fleeing from King Herod with the baby Jesus, during one stop while she was feeding her child, a drop of milk fell on a thistle growing nearby, and stained its leaves. The inconspicuous thistle felt greatly honoured and wanted to keep a trace of Virgin Mary’s milk on its leaves. Since that day, the leaves of milk thistle have a white pattern of veins. The legend is reflected in the Latin name of the species: marianum and in the German name: Mariendistel (thistle of Virgin Mary).2, 3 Milk thistle was traditionally given to breastfeeding women, to increase lactation.

Description (morphology)

Milk thistle is an annual plant. At first it forms a rich rosette of green leaves, with white veins. The leaves have spiny edges. Then a rigid and branched sprout grows, reaching a height of 3 metres (usually 60-150 cm). The flower heads are located on top of that sprout (up to 50 heads). The flower heads are cup-shaped, 4-5 cm in length. The cups have violet-purple, tubular flowers and are surrounded by spiky husks.

Milk thistle flowers from June to August. The fruit is a grey-brownish, flat seed with seed hairs on top, allowing the seeds to be carried by wind, like in the case of dandelion seeds. Fruit length reaches 5-7 mm, and 1000 seeds weigh up to 22-33 g. Milk thistle has a pile root system, composed of a single main root, reaching up to 150 cm in the ground, and several well developed side roots.1, 2, 3, 4


The plant naturally occurs in the Mediterranean region, from the Iberian Peninsula to Iran. It is cultured in Southern and Eastern Europe, North and South America and Australia.5, 6

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  1. 1. Hołubowicz-Kliza G. (2007) Alternatywna uprawa ziół na kwiaty,nasiona i owoce. IUNG, Puławy. ISBN: 978-83-89576-38-5
  2. 2. Buhring U. (2010) Wszystko o ziołach. Świat Książki, Warszawa ISBN: 978-83-247-1364-6
  3. 3. Mayer J.G., Uehleke B., Saum O.K. (2004) Zioła ojców benedyktynów mieszanki i leczenie. Świat Książki, Warszawa. ISBN 83-7391-125-1
  4. 4. Arnal-Schnebelen B, Goetz P, Paris M (2004) Lecznicze dary natury - 200 uzdrawiających ziół. Reader's Digest, Warszawa. ISBN 83-88243-94-2
  5. 5. Senderski M. E. (2007) Prawie wszystko o ziołach. Poradnik. Mateusz E. Senderski, Podkowa Leśna. ISBN 978-83-924849-0-5
  6. 6. Wielgosz T. (2008) Wielka księga ziół polskich. Publicat S.A., Poznań. ISBN 978-83-245-9538-9.