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Milk thistle, a tasty plant and a liver friend

Milk thistle, a tasty plant and liver friend

Milk thistle is a herbaceous plant famous for its purifying properties. Let’s discover all its benefits and how to use it in the kitchen.

Milk thistle, whose scientific name is Sylibum Marianum, is a herbaceous plant belonging to the family of Asteraceae, which grows in the Mediterranean. It’s the most common and widespread variety of thistle, while the hunchback thistle (Cynara Cardunculus) is harder to find. The plant of the cardoons family are characterized by fibrous and hard coasts. They have thorny leaves, purple red flowers and black oblong fruits with yellow spots.

The coasts can be cooked as a meal, while the fruits are used in phytotherapy. The fuits are rich in beneficial properties. In particular, the thistle is highly appreciated for its purifying and detoxifying properties.


Milk thistle: properties and benefits

cardo mariano

The fruits of milk thistle contain silymarin, a mixture of flavonolignans, including silibinine, isosilibinine, silidianine and silicristine.

This precious mix has detoxifying and hepatoprotective properties: it protects and helps purifying the liver. For this reason, milk thistle is recommended in cases of hepatitis, cirrhosis and food intoxications, alcohol excess, drugs and medicines abuse.

It is also used to treat fungal poisoning. In phytotherapy, silymarin is extracted from thistle fruits to produce supplements.

Dry seeds can be used to prepare a decoction, by boiling a spoon in a cup of water. Thistle is also used to regenerate liver tissues and prevent future damage. Thanks to its tonic and decongestant properties, it is also recommended in cases of weakness, fatigue, food allergies and depression. Finally, thistle contains phytoestrogens, which stimulate the production of breast milk during breastfeeding.

Milk thistle: contraindications

Thistle is generally well tolerated, but excessive consumption can cause diarrhoea, swelling, irritability and headaches. It can also limit drug absorption and is not recommended for people with hypertension, as it contains tyramine, a substance that causes an increase in blood pressure.

How to clean cardoons

For phytotherapeutic use, it is possible to buy dried milk thistle fruits or as a supplement in herbalist’s shops and pharmacies. For the kitchen use,  as we mentioned before, the edible parts are the coasts, very fibrous and callose, and difficult to clean indeed.

First of all, we have to eliminate the leaves, separate the ribs from the head and cut them into pieces of about 10 cm. Once this is done, it is necessary to remove the woody filaments using a knife or a vegetable peeler. After cleaning the ribs, to dampen the bitter taste typical of thistles, soak them for a few minutes in water and lemon juice.

How to cook cardoons

Once cleaned, the cardoons should be boiled in salted water, until they become soft. Cooked cardoons can be consumed in various ways: seasoned with salad, a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and lemon, sautéed in a pan with a drizzle of oil, garlic and parsley or baked au gratin with béchamel sauce and parmesan cheese. Finally, they can be used as a filling for savoury and rustic cakes.



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