HOW TO GROW MILK THISTLE - Silybum marianum

Also commonly known as carduus marianus, blessed milk thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, Marian thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary's thistle to name just a few, Silybum marianum is an robust biennial s native across Southern Europe through to Afghanistan and Asia although it has naturalised into North America, Iran, Australia and New Zealand. There is also some debate to whether it is a native the south coast of England. Incidentally the main image was taken on a roadside of the coastal town of Littlehampton.

How to grow Milk Thistle - Silybum marianum
It is a thistle-like species which forms a rosette of large, glossy dark-green leaves with prominent white veins and spiny lobes. Terminal heads of purple flowers with spiny bracts appear in the second year. The blooms are approximately 5 cm across and appear from July to September.

If you are growing from seed then sow in September or March if they are to be grown as annuals, or in May or June if being grown as biennials. They will grow in almost any soil in an open sunny site. Sow the seeds in their flowering site and cover with a thin layer of soil. Thin out seedlings to approximately 40-50 cm apart when they are large enough to handle.

Besides the milk thistles ornamental use, it is also has culinary and medicinal uses. The roots can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled and buttered or par-boiled. The new growth in the spring can be cut down to the root and also boiled and buttered. The young flower heads can be eaten like globe artichoke, and the peeled stems can be soaked overnight and then stewed to remove the bitterness. The leaves can be boiled and use as a spinach substitute or added raw to salads.

With regards to medical uses, it is believed that milk thistle may have some value in the treatment of liver disease, and cancer, however current research is so far inconclusive.

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HOW TO GROW MILK THISTLE - Silybum marianum

Main image credit Simon Eade
In text image - Public Domain,

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