Milk thistle is considered a weed by many but has a long history of being used for food and as medicine. Milk thistle is most famous for its positive effect on liver health. It is also something that you should consider when seeking out an alternative. Your replacement should be similarly versatile as a cooking ingredient while providing similar medicinal properties. Some of the best milk thistle substitutes are listed below.
Your best bet: Dandelion
Like milk thistle, dandelion can be used as both a cooked green and raw in salads. Both dandelion and milk thistle leaves are good substitutes for spinach. Dandelion is a little easier to prepare since there is no need to remove spines on the leaves the way you do with milk thistle. There is also no need to soak any part of the plant to lessen the bitterness.
Dandelion has the benefit of promoting liver health, according to several studies. It is a critical benefit that it shares with milk thistle, though dandelion benefits the liver differently. Dandelion increases the flow of bile to improve liver function. The flavor is also similar since both herbs share a pronounced bitterness.
A decent second choice: Peppermint
Peppermint is another herb that can improve the flow of bile, making it valuable for liver health. Peppermint is a decent milk thistle substitute despite coming from another botanical family. It is a member of the Lamiaceae family along with other well-known culinary herbs like basil and oregano. Bile is essential for the digestion of fats and the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels. Peppermint has also been shown to have protective benefits for the liver in some animal studies.
You can use peppermint as a milk thistle alternative in a variety of ways with the most obvious being in tea. You can also add peppermint to salads.
In a pinch: Agrimony
Agrimony is another ancient herb and has a range of aliases such as cocklebur and liverwort. Agrimony belongs to the rose family and has the botanical name of Agrimonia eupatoria, the first part of which comes from argemone. Argemone was a Greek category of plants used for eye health. Agrimony is similar to milk thistle in that it is beneficial for liver health and has been used to treat liver issues for centuries. It is also bitter like milk thistle, and most people consume it as a tea just like they do milk thistle. Agrimony tea is usually sweetened with flower petals or honey to make it palatable. Unlike milk thistle, most people don’t consider the agrimony plant food. You will not be able to use it as a cooked green or as a salad green.
Burdock root is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. Studies show that it can help to heal damage to the liver caused by the overconsumption of alcohol. For centuries, many have used it for its positive effects on liver health. Burdock root is not a leafy green like milk thistle, so you won’t use it in salads but it often shows up in pickles and stir-fried dishes. The flavor of burdock is earthy and sweet with a strong similarity to that of lotus root.
Amla powder is different from milk thistle in that it is the product of a fruit rather than a herb. Amla powder is also called Indian gooseberry and is known for its intense bitterness and its significant benefits for liver health.