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Milk Thistle, a Herb

Written by Sky Taylor, Diet Bites

Basil's House of Herbs: Herb Recipes |  When Herbs & Medicines Collide

Milk Thistle - Culinary Roots

Adored by donkeys and abhorred by campers, there are many different species of thistles - from the Milk to the Cotton, Horse, Star, Water, Yellow and Blessed Thistle.

In ancient times, the wet nurses of Europe included milk thistle in their diet.

If you've ever pricked the leaf of a milk thistle, you've seen that they release a milky substance that is quite sticky.

Some at the time were under the belief that the Virgin Mary's milk might have fallen on a thistle leaf - thereby rendering this mystical milk of the herbal plant.

The wind is indeed a key factor when it comes to dispersing the seeds in the four directions of the wind, but the thistle seeds get a little help from animals, rippling waters and we-humans.

The seeds can get trapped in our clothing when hiking or exploring the Great Outdoors; animals and in particular birds who consume the seeds propagate new crops of thistles with their droppings.

This invasive species can overtake an area, wiping out precious grazing land - as well as great camping spots as hinted above.

Although they are quite beautiful - supporting beautiful purple tops when they flower, they are mined with spiny leaves that can cause injury to a human's delicate skin.

Unlike the stinging nettle, they do not attack the nerves - the discomfort is simply felt through the sharp spines surrounding the leaves.Thistle

Culinary History of Thistle

Old world as well as some cultures in modern day cookery boil or steamed the leaves.

It may also be used as a salad green after the spines are removed.

Thistle for Decorations

When dried, the thistle makes a beautiful centerpiece for the table.

My husband Tom and I have collected thistles many times as they grow not far from our house in big groves and the hot breath of the south dries them to perfection.

They are also quite beautiful in their flowering state.

The purple against the green is stunning. Of course, the leaves should be removed with caution as again - they can be as sharp as the tip of a pin.

Herbal Medicine Uses of the Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle has been used in the following methods throughout the ages of time:

Used for lactation purposes with the belief that the milk of the plant would increase milk production;

  For treating impaired liver functions and malfunctions of the liver such as cirrhosis and hepatitis; the milk thistle has proven to stimulate new cell growth and healing within the liver;

It may assist as an antidote to the Amanita mushroom, also commonly referred to as the 'death cap'.

There have been documented cases of individuals dying from touching the mushroom and touching their lips.

The death cap is a very deadly mushroom that requires a look of admiration rather than a curious touch. On that note, if you are out and about, please just look at any mushrooms that you might find along the trail unless you are an expert in mushroom identification.

Reference: Tom, the Biologist

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