How to Prepare Milk Thistle


Milk thistle, also called Silybum marianum, is a thorny plant considered a weed by many people. But its seeds are said to have medicinal properties that are beneficial for gall bladder and liver problems. If you grow milk thistle or collect its flower heads from the wild, you can remove the seeds and prepare them as a tincture that might benefit liver health. Be aware that this plant's use as a medicine has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and that it can be toxic if livestock eat it.

Preparing Milk Thistle Seeds as a Tincture

Step 1

Harvest flower heads after the flowers wilt and begin to die. The seedpod will pop open later, so be sure to harvest it before all the seeds have fallen to the ground.

Step 2

Place your seedpods on an old window screen or other screen in a warm, dark, dry, well-ventilated area such as your garage. The pods might burst open on their own as they dry: This makes it easier for you to get them out of the pod. If the pod doesn't open on its own within about two weeks, open it with a knife and then shake the seeds into a shoebox or other small box.

Step 3

Allow the seeds to continue drying on your screen for another two weeks. Then store them in plastic zipper bags or jars with snug-fitting lids.

Step 4

Nick the seeds in a coffee grinder to scarify them and release the properties that are inside the hard coat.

Step 5

Fill a clean canning jar (either pint or quart size) about half full with your nicked seeds. Fill it with either vodka or vegetable glycerin. Allow it to brew for 30 days in a cool, dark place, such as under your kitchen sink. Shake the jar every day and after the tincturing process is complete, strain the mixture through cheesecloth or an old nylon stocking. Store the tincture in brown dropper bottles.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always talk to your doctor before you start using any herbal medicines. If you have a known liver disease, follow your doctor's instructions and never attempt to treat yourself with herbal medicines.

Things You'll Need

  • Milk thistle flower heads
  • Warm, dry, dark, well-ventilated area
  • Old window screen
  • Knife
  • Shoebox
  • Plastic zipper bags or jars with snug-fitting lids
  • Coffee grinder
  • Glass jar(s)
  • Vodka or glycerin


  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Susun Weed Forum
Keywords: milk thistle, preparing tincture, herbal medicine

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi‘iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, and She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.