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Wild Foraging: Thistle

Thistle: Milk Weed (Silybum Marianum)

If you live in the west the Milk Weed Thistle is a plant you will know well. It invades everything that gets disturbed: roadways, pastures, etc. It's thick spiky stalk is a challenge to take down with the weed eater and darn near impossible to mow. As you wack it with the weed eater it sprays out a milky substance that leaves you drenched.


Gregory L. Tilford states in his book, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West,that the native peoples of North America used to treat liver disorders and it is still used for that purpose today.

Identifying The Plant

Milk Weed Thistle is another plant that will pick the heck out of you if you try to pick it. You must wear protective clothing or use needle nosed pliers when harvesting this plant!

The nettle plant can grow up to seven feet tall in favorable conditions. The milk weed thistle has a webbed pattern on the leaves. They are deeply lobed and grow in an alternate pattern. The leaves are often spiny and the stems can be up to two inches wide. The flowers vary depending on the species and can range from while to purple, resembling a mini artichoke. The plant blooms in April through July.

Eating Milk Weed Thistle

Milk weed thistle is edible in small amounts. The flowers are edible but the spines need to be removed. You want to eat the fibers. They are twelve percent sugar and are sticky and sweet. The roots and leaves are also edible. Most varieties are bitter and remembered only when needed for survival.

*Some thistles contain carcinogenic alkaloids. Do not consume this plant in large quantities.

Other Uses

The dying flower make excellent fire starters.


Milk weed thistle has tonic effects on the liver. The active ingredient, Silymarin, is found in the seeds. This chemical has been proven to strengthen, protect and regenerate liver cells. How do you know if you or your group member is suffering from liver disorder? Common symptoms include: frequent constipation, abdominal bloating, rapid mood swings, menstrual disorders, red, itching palms, small red abdominal spots or sore itchy eyes.

Attention Use At Your Own Risk

I am not medically trained in anyway. I am simply a student. I read and experiment with ancient herbal techniques. I am simply passing on the knowledge I have gained from studding many texts on the subject and I am in no way responsible for anything you do with this information. 

For this article I used these resources the most:

Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1993. Print.

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