Fungal profiles in various milk thistle botanicals from US retail

Int J Food Microbiol. 2013 Jun 3;164(1):87-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2013.03.026. Epub 2013 Apr 6.


Milk thistle (MT) dietary supplements are widely consumed due to their possible beneficial effect on liver health. As botanicals, they can be contaminated with a variety of fungi and their secondary metabolites, mycotoxins. This study was conducted in an effort to determine the mycological quality of various MT botanical supplements from the US market. Conventional plating methods were used for the isolation and enumeration of fungi, while conventional microscopy as well as molecular methods were employed for the speciation of the isolated strains. Results showed that a high percentage of the MT samples tested were contaminated with fungi. Total counts ranged between <2.00 and 5.60 log10 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g). MT whole seeds carried the highest fungal levels followed by MT cut herb. No live fungi were recovered from MT seed tea bags, liquid extracts, capsules or soft gels. Potentially toxigenic molds from the Aspergillus sections Flavi and Nigri as well as Eurotium, Penicillium, Fusarium and Alternaria species were isolated from MT supplements. The predominant molds were Eurotia (E. repens, E. amstelodami and E. rubrum), A. flavus, A. tubingensis, A. niger and A. candidus. To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting on fungal contamination profiles of MT botanicals.

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements / microbiology*
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Fungi / isolation & purification
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Fungi / physiology*
  • Milk Thistle / microbiology*
  • Mycotoxins / metabolism
  • United States


  • Mycotoxins