I have been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years.

The Greek physician Dioscorides made tea with my seeds to treat poisonous snakebite or a violent cough, and the Roman scholar Plinius the Elder wrote that I should not be cooked, but that I was an excellent medicine for carrying off bile.

The 17th-century British herbalist and pharmacist Nicholas Culpeper was also full of praise for me. According to him I could prevent blockage in the liver and spleen, and could even protect against and cure the deadly plague – no easy matter!

Still, as far as the liver is concerned Culpeper was on the right tracks. My seeds contain several remarkable substances, together known as ‘silymarine’, which do indeed have liver-protecting qualities and which stimulate the growth of new liver cells.

For instance, in modern medicine silymarine is used as a potentially lifesaving antidote to poisoning by mushrooms containing amatoxin, a potent group of toxins that cause liver failure and death.