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Silybum marianum has other common names including, milk thistle, blessed milkthistle, Marian thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary's thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, variegated thistle and Scotch thistle.
Originally a native of Southern Europe through to Asia, it is now found throughout the world. Milk thistle has been used for a long time, with references dating back to the first century.
It is said that the Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder (AD. 23-79), wrote about the plant's juice and its virtues - "carrying of bile" - which in his time referred to a general description of any internal fluid - and "Dioscorides", the Roman army physician, used the seeds of Milk thistle in his daily work.
In modern life, some people see the thistle as a weed and spend their days trying to combat the hearty plant, when a better advice would be to harvest the abundance growing all around them.
Milk thistle has also been known to be used as food. The roots can be eaten raw or boiled and buttered or par-boiled and roasted. The young shoots in spring can be cut down to the root and boiled and eaten with butter.
The spiny bracts on the flower head can be eaten like an artichoke, and the stems (after peeling) can be soaked overnight to remove bitterness and then be stewed.
The leaves can be trimmed of prickles and boiled as a spinach substitute or they can also be added raw to salads.