Milk thistle tea is gaining popularity as a natural health supplement due to its many purported benefits, especially to the liver. It is made from the silymarin herb, which contains powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Studies have shown it may support heart health, bolster immunity and even help with weight loss. In addition, it has been used in traditional medicine for centuries with numerous anecdotal accounts of success. So, let’s take a closer look at what milk thistle tea is and how it can help your health so you can decide whether to incorporate it into your daily routine. Now, let’s begin.
Table of Contents
What is Milk Thistle Tea?
Milk thistle tea, a herbal beverage, is made from dried, crushed milk thistle seeds. The milk thistle plant is endemic to Europe, North America, and South Africa. Also, the milk thistle plant leaves have white veins resembling milk, and the plant itself looks like a milk thistle.
Milk thistle goes by a few other names: holy thistle, variegated thistle, Scotch thistle, and Saint Mary’s thistle. According to urban legend, one of the white veins on its leaves is said to have been created by a drop of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk.
Milk thistle may be ingested in different forms, including tea, pills, capsules, and a liquid extract. Similarly to dandelion tea, the taste is delicate and pleasant. The seeds and, sometimes, the leaves of the plant are used to make these concoctions. Its herbal properties have long been used to treat gastrointestinal and hepatic ailments.
A flavonoid called silymarin is found in milk thistle and is thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. In studies, silymarin was shown to prevent liver damage caused by chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals, as well as more common ones like alcohol and drugs. 
Milk Thistle Tea Benefits
1. Milk Thistle Tea to Promote Liver Health
One of milk thistle tea’s main benefits is its ability to support liver health. The plant’s extract, silymarin, has been studied for potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties.
There is also preliminary evidence that this plant may aid in preventing and treating alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver cancer, and drug- and toxin-induced liver injury.  While it has not been shown to prevent the development of many liver disorders, it may help mitigate their severity.
Patients with alcoholic cirrhosis who take silymarin may live longer because the supplement shields their livers from the free radicals generated during the ethanol metabolic process. 
Some research suggests that silymarin, an active component of milk thistle, may reduce inflammation and repair liver damage in persons with certain liver conditions.  It has been found to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which can help protect the liver from damage. It also helps increase the production of new liver cells, making it beneficial for those with hepatitis or other types of liver damage.
Finally, additional study is required to determine the efficacy and safety of milk thistle formulations, such as teas, in treating liver disorders.
2. Milk Thistle Tea to Boost Immunity
Milk thistle tea may also be beneficial for boosting the immune system. Benefits include enhanced immune function and reduced chronic inflammation.
Several studies have shown that silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, may boost immunity. This has led to claims that milk thistle is an immunomodulator. As a result, it can improve the immune system’s ability to fight off infection and lower the body’s level of chronic inflammation. 
Also, silymarin inhibited a hyperactive immune system, which helped reduce the chronic inflammation associated with asthma and allergic rhinitis. Milk thistle extract boosted human immunological function, too. 
Milk thistle has been shown to help the immune system, but more research is needed with humans before this can be definitively concluded.
3. Milk Thistle Tea as an Antioxidant
Milk thistle has a class of active chemicals known as silymarin. Silybin is the primary ingredient in this compound. While the thistle’s silymarin content is highest in its seeds, it may also be found in its blossoms and leaves. However, the silymarin in milk thistle teas is less concentrated than in extracts since the seeds are often crushed or used in their whole to make the tea.
Many believe that silymarin, an antioxidant found in milk thistle, is responsible for the herb’s alleged health advantages. Silymarin may have antioxidant properties by mopping up and blocking the production of free radicals, which may harm cells and lead to illness. This compound has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce inflammation. 
4. Milk Thistle Tea for Improved Cognition
Milk thistle may improve the body’s ability to deal with free radicals. Oxidative stress has been suggested as a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Milk thistle’s antioxidant properties enable it to cure neurodegenerative diseases and enhance cognitive function. 
However, further human trials are needed to validate milk thistle’s benefits on cognition.
5. Milk Thistle Tea for Diabetes
Milk thistle is also being studied for its anti-diabetic properties. Those who have diabetes and take supplements containing silymarin may substantially decrease their blood sugar levels while fasting.  This may aid blood sugar management by increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering diabetes-related inflammation. 
Yet, more extensive trials are required to explore the potential of these extracts and teas for diabetes treatment.
Risks and Side Effects of Milk Thistle Tea
There is no standard dose or suggested intake for milk thistle tea. However, moderate consumption is often considered safe. Milk thistle tea has not been studied extensively in pregnant or nursing women, so it’s best to check with your doctor before trying it.
Its side effects include stomach distress, nausea, and diarrhea. 
In addition, milk thistle may help control blood sugar levels. So, those with diabetes should exercise caution while using the plant in the form of tea or dietary supplements. 
Also, you should be cautious if you have allergies to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, or daisies since these plants are all members of the same family.
How to Make Milk Thistle Tea
You can purchase milk thistle tea in many health food stores but make your own at home.
To make milk thistle tea, prepare the following ingredients:
- 2 teaspoons dried milk thistle leaves (and flowers)
- 1 cup boiling water
- Honey (optional)
1. Place the milk thistle leaves and flowers into a mug or teapot.
2. Pour the boiling water over the milk thistle leaves and flowers, and let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Strain the milk thistle tea into a cup with a strainer.
4. Sweeten with honey, if desired.
How Long Should I take Milk Thistle Tea to Detox My Liver?
Supplementing with milk thistle extract or a product containing silybin with phosphatidylcholine for as little as a week has enhanced liver function tests in preliminary studies.
If you suffer from liver illness, such as alcoholic or viral liver disease, you may take milk thistle capsules or pills ranging in dosage from 250 to 750 mg. Depending on the individual, the recommended dose is anywhere from two to three times daily. 
When Is the Best Time to Take Milk Thistle Tea? Day or Night?
Milk thistle tea is best consumed on an empty stomach in the morning, giving your body the maximum time to metabolize and absorb its health-promoting compounds. You can also take it at night before bed.
Bottomline: What is Milk Thistle Tea?
Milk thistle tea is an ancient tea with many potential health benefits. While some evidence exists supporting the use of milk thistle tea, more research is needed to confirm its efficacy in humans.
Milk thistle tea has no standardized dose, so moderate consumption is recommended. It may present some risks for pregnant or nursing women, so check with your doctor before consuming it.
Ultimately, if you want milk thistle tea as an alternative health experience, it’s best to do some research and consult your doctor first. Natural remedies can have the potential to be powerful allies in the journey toward overall health and wellness when used responsibly.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- Gillessen A, Schmidt HH. Silymarin as Supportive Treatment in Liver Diseases: A Narrative Review. Adv Ther. 2020 Apr;37(4):1279-1301. doi: 10.1007/s12325-020-01251-y. Epub 2020 Feb 17. PMID: 32065376; PMCID: PMC7140758.
- Abenavoli L, Izzo AA, Milić N, Cicala C, Santini A, Capasso R. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): A concise overview on its chemistry, pharmacological, and nutraceutical uses in liver diseases. Phytother Res. 2018 Nov;32(11):2202-2213. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6171. Epub 2018 Aug 6. PMID: 30080294.
- Vargas-Mendoza N, Madrigal-Santillán E, Morales-González A, Esquivel-Soto J, Esquivel-Chirino C, García-Luna Y González-Rubio M, Gayosso-de-Lucio JA, Morales-González JA. Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin. World J Hepatol. 2014 Mar 27;6(3):144-9. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v6.i3.144. PMID: 24672644; PMCID: PMC3959115.
- de Avelar CR, Pereira EM, de Farias Costa PR, de Jesus RP, de Oliveira LPM. Effect of silymarin on biochemical indicators in patients with liver disease: Systematic review with meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2017 Jul 21;23(27):5004-5017. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v23.i27.5004. PMID: 28785154; PMCID: PMC5526770.
- M. Morovat, M. Chamani, A. Zarei & A.A. Sadeghi (2016) Dietary but not in ovo feeding of Silybum marianum extract resulted in an improvement in performance, immunity and carcass characteristics and decreased the adverse effects of high temperatures in broilers, British Poultry Science, 57:1, 105-113, DOI: 10.1080/00071668.2015.1121537.
- Wilasrusmee C, Kittur S, Shah G, Siddiqui J, Bruch D, Wilasrusmee S, Kittur DS. Immunostimulatory effect of Silybum Marianum (milk thistle) extract. Med Sci Monit. 2002 Nov;8(11):BR439-43. PMID: 12444368.
- Surai PF. Silymarin as a Natural Antioxidant: An Overview of the Current Evidence and Perspectives. Antioxidants (Basel). 2015 Mar 20;4(1):204-47. doi: 10.3390/antiox4010204. PMID: 26785346; PMCID: PMC4665566.
- Kumar J, Park KC, Awasthi A, Prasad B. Silymarin extends lifespan and reduces proteotoxicity in C. elegans Alzheimer’s model. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2015;14(2):295-302. doi: 10.2174/1871527314666150116110212. PMID: 25613505.
- Voroneanu L, Nistor I, Dumea R, Apetrii M, Covic A. Silymarin in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Diabetes Res. 2016;2016:5147468. doi: 10.1155/2016/5147468. Epub 2016 Jun 1. PMID: 27340676; PMCID: PMC4908257.
- Kazazis CE, Evangelopoulos AA, Kollas A, Vallianou NG. The therapeutic potential of milk thistle in diabetes. Rev Diabet Stud. 2014 Summer;11(2):167-74. doi: 10.1900/RDS.2014.11.167. Epub 2014 Aug 10. PMID: 25396404; PMCID: PMC4310066.
- Soleimani V, Delghandi PS, Moallem SA, Karimi G. Safety and toxicity of silymarin, the major constituent of milk thistle extract: An updated review. Phytother Res. 2019 Jun;33(6):1627-1638. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6361. Epub 2019 May 8. PMID: 31069872.
- LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012-. Milk Thistle. [Updated 2020 Jan 21]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548817/.