How to Make Milk Thistle Extract

A milk thistle extract or tincture can easily be made on your own kitchen counter instead of spending a ridiculous amount of money from a specialty store.

When made and stored properly the extract should be shelf stable for at least two years. In my experience, it remains potent for a minimum of five years.

milk thistle extract
milk thistle extract

This extract is made from the seeds of milk thistles (Silybum marianum). It is part of the Asteraceae family which is native to the Mediterranean and is now naturalized all over Europe and around the world.

One of the primary and most vital active ingredients in milk thistle is silymarin. It is a collective flavonoid consisting of silybin, silychristin, and silydianin.

Silymarin is believed to boast antioxidant properties that may help treat liver problems, cirrhosis, kidney and spleen issues, help with weight loss, help with insulin resistance, and skin rashes.

It targets the liver, specifically the ability to regenerate liver health. Milk thistle has been used to help with liver disease since ancient Greece.

The Difference Between an Extract and a Tincture

Basically, the difference between making an extract and a tincture is the amount of natural matter – or herbs, infused in alcohol or glycerin that is being used in the infusion recipe.

To make an extract with the milk thistle, mix it in equal parts with the alcohol or glycerin. When making a milk thistle tincture, use 1 part natural matter to three parts alcohol or glycerin.

The seeds from the milk thistle flower cones are used to make the extract.

Once they are crushed using a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar, the silymarin is released through the cracks in the seed shell. Milk thistle tea can also be used in this manner, but will not be as potent.

How Is Milk Thistle Extract Used?

In addition to being used to treat boils, skin rashes, and as a wound wash, milk thistle is becoming a common ingredient in many beauty products. If you make any of the items on the list below, simply add ¼ to a ½ of a teaspoon of the extract to the recipe to help prevent chapped skin, promote cell growth, and foster healing.

  • Lip balm
  • Moisturizing cream or mask
  • Anti-itch ointment
  • Shaving lotion
  • Burn ointment
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Sore muscle salve or oil
milk thistle extract
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Milk Thistle Extract Recipe


  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup 100 proof alcohol I use vodka
  • ¾ to 1 cup milk thistle seeds ground if possible


  • Sterilize the Mason jar being used by placing it in boiling water for approximately 10 minutes, or by placing it on the rack in the oven at about 250 degrees for 15 minutes.
  • Pour all of the ingredients in a Mason jar.
  • Place a new lid on the jar, and screw it in place firmly with a ring.
  • Shake the jar vigorously for about 1 minute.
  • Put the jar in a cool dark place for five weeks.
  • Shake the jar daily to ensure the milk thistle seeds do not float to the top, and get fully infused with the alcohol and water.
  • At the end of the designated number of weeks, strain the milk thistle away from the liquid through a fine mesh strainer – keeping the liquid. If you do not have a fine mesh strainer, use a small colander and/or line a colander with several coffee filters to decrease the size of the openings.


How to Make Milk Thistle Extract

If the liquid level in the jar drops lower than the milk thistle seeds, check the lid and ring to make sure it is completely sealed. Add enough 100 proof alcohol to fill the jar above the seed level again. If a situation like this occurs, add 1 more week onto the processing time.

The scientific studies regarding the uses and benefits of milk thistle are not conclusive and remain ongoing. I am not a medical professional of any type, and am sharing information about how to make milk thistle extract based upon my personal experience for educational and entertainment purposes only.

What are the best ways to use milk thistle?

Milk thistle is such a versatile plant that you could almost think of it like a food instead of a natural medicine. It does wonders for your liver, can help stabilize type-2 diabetes, and has anti-inflammatory effects. It’s best to use the seeds instead of the leaves for your homemade remedies.

Here are the best ways to use milk thistle in your daily diet:

  • Capsules – You can get capsules that have ground up milk thistle seeds inside. These can be taken as often as needed and provide the same effect as eating the seeds.
  • Grinding – If you’re not interested in eating the whole seeds you can grind them up and sprinkle them in things such as milkshakes or on salads. The taste may be strong for some, but it’s not a terrible flavor.
  • Tincture – A steeped solution that you can take under your tongue is a great way to get the benefits out of milk thistle. It is quickly absorbed through the bloodstream with this method.

You may have noticed that turning the seeds into a tea was not mentioned, and for good cause. Steeping milk thistle seeds in water isn’t very good at extracting the compounds inside, as with most herbs.

What are the health benefits of milk thistle?

Many people are now looking for natural alternatives to synthetic medications. Milk thistle has shown promise in those suffering from a breast cancer diagnosis or various skin cancers.

Chemotherapy can be devastating on the immune system, milk thistle can help improve liver health in those who have undergone radiation treatment.

Some claim that milk thistle can also help with heart health by lowering cholesterol. This is because of its effectiveness in helping people with diabetes by lowering your cholesterol.

What are the negative side effects of milk thistle?

Ingesting milk thistle seeds probably won’t cause any issues, unlike something like mushroom poisoning for example. However, there are some side effects you should be aware of, including possible interactions with existing medications or an allergic reaction of some sort.

Nausea and diarrhea are at the top of the side effects list for using milk thistle. As with any new change to your diet, milk thistle could upset the balance in your body. It is known to lower blood sugar levels, which is great for diabetics, however that may cause some nausea.

Keep in mind that this should not be considered medical advice and to work with your health practitioner to come up with the best solution for your specific scenario.

Don’t take milk thistle if you are allergic to the following:

  • Ragweed
  • Marigolds
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Daisies

Synthetic medications like warfarin and valium can react negatively to certain compounds found in milk thistle. If you’re on medication for high cholesterol it might be beneficial to look at alternatives to this herb.

There is no conclusive data regarding using milk thistle if you’re pregnant. Doctors have suggested that any women with a condition that deals with your estrogen levels, such as ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine cancer should steer clear of using milk thistle.

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5 thoughts on “How to Make Milk Thistle Extract”

    1. I had the same question. I thought the addition of water would just dilute it and make it a tincture instead of an extract.

    1. 4 stars
      I have read (In “The Science of Skinny,” by Dee McCaffrey, CDC) that silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, is not water soluble and must be extracted using alcohol.

  1. No, of course it isn’t. With serious liver conditions, it is recommended to use capsules of the ground herb. However, for most people, the small amount of alcohol in the dropper is fine…. it only amounts to the same amount as the alcohol in a ripe banana.

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