Silymarin, derived from the milk thistle plant, Silybum marianum, has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for diseases of the liver and biliary tract. As interest in alternative therapy has emerged in the United States, gastroenterologists have encountered increasing numbers of patients taking silymarin with little understanding of its purported properties. Silymarin and its active constituent, silybin, have been reported to work as antioxidants scavenging free radicals and inhibiting lipid peroxidation. Studies also suggest that they protect against genomic injury, increase hepatocyte protein synthesis, decrease the activity of tumor promoters, stabilize mast cells, chelate iron, and slow calcium metabolism. In this article we review silymarin's history, pharmacology, and properties, and the clinical trials pertaining to patients with acute and chronic liver disease.