Milk thistle (Silybum marianum L. Gaert., Asteraceae) seeds have been used for centuries as a herbal medicine, mainly for the treatment of liver diseases. The common name, milk thistle, is derived from the milky-white veins on the leaves, which, when broken open, yield a milky sap. The active constituents of milk thistle seeds are three isomeric flavonolignans, namely silibinin (silybin), silychristin, and silidianin, collectively known as silymarin, which is extracted from the dried milk thistle seeds. Silibinin is the most biologically active. The seeds also contain other flavonolignans, betaine, apigenin, silybonol, proteins, fixed oil, and free fatty acids, which may contribute to the health-giving effects of milk thistle seeds (DerMarderosian, 2001; Evans, 2002).
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