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"Around the 16th century the milk thistle became quite popular and almost all parts of it were eaten. The roots can be eaten raw or boiled and buttered or par-boiled and roasted. The young shoots in spring can be cut down to the root and boiled and buttered. The spiny bracts on the flower head were eaten in the past like globe artichoke, and the stems (after peeling) can be soaked overnight to remove bitterness and then stewed. The leaves can be trimmed of prickles and boiled and make a good spinach substitute or they can also be added raw to salads."
From a medicinal standpoint this plant is widely used as a liver tonic, and controlled research has verified that usage resulted in "significant improvement in liver function tests (ALT and AST) and platelet counts vs. the placebo group."