Milk Thistle: An Antidote to Mushroom Poisoning?

Plants and mushrooms can contain a heady mix of active compounds — some can contain deadly toxins, but others can hold a mix of beneficial properties. Available across the US in drugstores and health and well-being stores, Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is a plant with interesting medicinal potential.

It’s an edible plant, but the most prominent historical, and current, use of milk thistle is as traditional herbal medicine. It’s a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae) which has a number of plants commonly used as natural medicine.

Close up of the Milk Thistle flower | Photo by Zeynel Cebeci on Wikimedia Commons

What Does Milk Thistle Do?

One of the most common uses of milk thistle is as a digestive. After a little overindulgence — perhaps during the festive season — milk thistle can settle indigestion and help to prevent acid reflux. Many people also claim that taking a milk thistle tablet lessens their hangover symptoms.

As it’s a herbal remedy, you should always conduct your own research, and if you take other medication you should speak to your doctor before using it. It’s a member of the daisy and sunflower family, so be aware of any potential allergic reactions if you have had past reactions to other plants in this family.

Studies have been exploring the potential of using milk thistle to treat chronic liver conditions. Many people have reported great results from using milk thistle capsules to treat fatty liver (caused by alcohol or not), cirrhosis, and other conditions that can damage the liver, including mushroom poisoning…

What is the Active Compound in Milk Thistle?

The seeds contain the active compound in milk thistle. It’s an antioxidant known as silymarin, which is thought to have numerous health benefits when ingested. Products containing milk thistle can be bought in capsule, liquid, or tablet form.

A dried flower head of mature Milk Thistle Seeds | Photo by Harry Rose on Wikimedia Commons

Can Milk Thistle Cure Mushroom Poisoning?

Mushrooms like the Death Cap contain amatoxins which are as deadly as the name suggests, however, the Milk Thistle contains antioxidants that may have the potential to treat liver damage caused by amatoxins. Research is still being conducted, but the potential is intriguing.

Cultural Symbolism and Mythology of Milk Thistle

The historic usage of milk thistle is wide-ranging. Its medicinal potential was thought to have been discovered by the ancient Greeks, and throughout the centuries it has been tested, studied and used by notable botanists and herbalists.

An interesting story links the naming of milk thistle to the virgin Mary. It was believed that whilst fleeing to Egypt, she paused to nurse baby Jesus near a patch of thistles to stay hidden. The white veining on the leaves is then believed to have been caused by a drop of her milk spilling onto the thistles. This story has given the plant a series of other names, including the Holy thistle.

A close up of the white veining | Photo by Salicyna on Wikimedia Commons

What Does Milk Thistle Look Like?

The bright purple flower heads of milk thistle are unmistakable as being a member of the thistle group. The flowers are surrounded by spiked sepals, and the prickly leaves have quite striking white veining. It flowers through the summer months, which when combined with the veined leaves is the easiest time to identify the plant.

Milk Thistle | Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz on Wikimedia Commons

Where Does Milk Thistle Grow?

Milk Thistle plants are native to Europe, particularly the Mediterranean and the middle east. However, because of their value as a medicine, they were likely traded around the World. Today they are well established in other continents, including Australia and the US.

They establish quickly in disturbed soil and, to most people, they are generally considered just another invasive weed. However, the properties of Milk Thistle have sparked a series of interesting scientific studies.


A plant that has been appreciated for centuries, milk thistle is an interesting plant with a lot of medicinal potential. It is used today by many people looking to benefit from its powerful antioxidant properties.

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