The seed of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) contains silymarin, thought to be useful in treating diseases of the liver such as cirrhosis, jaundice, and hepatitis. It has also shown promise in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, and it may be helpful reducing the toxicity of poisonous mushrooms.
I grow it because it looks very cool and is sort of weird. Milk thistle grows readily from seed, and grows rapidly, reaching a height of about 5-6 feet. When young, it is a striking accent foliage plant, with the white “milk” pattern on its large and spiny leaves a standout in the mixed border.
As it matures, it sends up a tall spike, festooned with the aforementioned milk-splattered spiny leaves, and crowned with a purplish blossom. The blossom has the characteristic thistle form, and is armed to the teeth with strong spikes.
My neighbor commented that a planting of milk thistle says rock ‘n’ roll, and, I might add, heavy metal at that. Pair it with some Love Lies Bleeding and Crown of Thorns, and you’ve made a statement, sort of like keeping a pit bull with a spiked collar.
It requires heavy leather gloves to remove the seeds. By the time the thistles are dry enough to yield seeds, it is time to take the plants out, and by then the leaves are looking rather tatty and ready to go to the heap anyway. I cut them down when the thistles are turning brown and beginning to get sort of flyaway fluffy.
From about a half a dozen plants, I collected about a half cup of seed, from which I could make a small amount of tincture.