Dandelion vs. Milk Thistle

ichameleonseye/iStock/Getty Images

Dandelion and milk thistle are two herbs that can cleanse, purify and regenerate your liver, although there is insufficient scientific evidence to support these claims. Although both of these herbs contribute to your overall liver health, they contain different substances and have specific properties and actions on your liver. Health supplement manufacturers may even combine dandelion and milk thistle in the same formula to increase its liver support activity. Consult with your health care provider prior to taking dandelion or milk thistle herbs.

Dandelion History

Dandelion, also known as Taraxacum officinalis, is a common weed that has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. The Arabs in the 10th century, European physicians in the Middle Ages and the Chinese, Indians and Russians have all used dandelion medicinally. The United States pharmacopeia included dandelion as a medicinal diuretic from 1831 to 1926. Dandelion is not only used medicinally but is also a nutritious food source. The leaves contain vitamin A and are commonly eaten as salad greens. Dandelion roots can be a substitute for coffee beans, and the flowers are often made into wine.

Dandelion Effects

According to Kathi Kemper, M.D., dandelion's principal uses are as a diuretic and liver tonic. Dandelion can stimulate bile secretion, aid digestion, improve your appetite and have laxative effects. A study published in 1990 by the Chinese Journal of Modern Developments in Traditional Medicine states that a herbal combination that included dandelion helped treat 96 adults with chronic hepatitis B. According to another study published in 1990 in the Chinese Journal, dandelion shows antiviral properties against herpes type 1. You can also apply dandelion topically to treat warts. Dandelion is ingested as fresh or dried leaves or roots, as liquid or powdered extract or simply as tea. Consult with your health care provider or certified herbalist prior to taking dandelion.

Milk Thistle History

Milk thistle is also known as Silybum mirianum. Like dandelion, milk thistle is considered a weed but is a medicinal herb that can also benefit your liver. According to Armando Gonzalez Stuart, Ph.D., Europeans have used milk thistle seeds medicinally for centuries. This herb also was used in Greece, Italy and Germany. Today milk thistle grows wild in areas of the U.S. East Coast and California. Researchers have studied its medicinal effects since the 1950s.

Milk Thistle Effects

According to Dr. Stuart and the 2005 International Journal of Oncology, milk thistle contains sylimarin, which is a combination of three phenolic compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Dr. Stuart states that milk thistle can help treat liver disease. Milk thistle may improve symptoms of hepatitis, and according to a 1989 study published in the Journal of Hepatology, it may be effective against alcoholic liver cirrhosis. Sylimarin can stimulate RNA polymerase in liver cell nuclei, which can help regenerate your liver. You can take milk thistle in capsule or tablet form.


According to Dr. Kemper, dandelion has no known toxic compounds and little to no risk of producing negative side effects. You may experience an allergic reaction to dandelion, especially if you have pre-existing allergies or when you use it topically. Dr. Kemper states that dandelion is generally safe when taken with other herbs or medications, but you may consider avoiding it when taking other diuretics. Do not use dandelion if you have biliary occlusion, acute cholecystitis or ileus.

Dr. Stuart states that milk thistle is generally considered safe, even when taken long term. You may experience minor digestive discomfort while taking milk thistle, although this side effect is rare. There is also little to no risk of drug interaction with milk thistle use.

Always consult with your health care provider prior to taking either of these herbs, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.