Identify Sow Thistle

Sow Thistle (Sonchus)

Sow thistle - Sonchus

How to Identify Sow Thistle(Edible)

Common names
Sow thistle, hare thistle, hare’s lettuce

Botanical name
Sonchus (genus of several species)

Meaning of botanical name
An ancient Greek word meaning “hollow”, in reference to the hollow stem

Known hazards
Unclear if any recorded

Could be confused with
Groundsel, which has blunt fuzzy leaves rather than jagged spiky leaves, is a potential poisonous lookalike. Sow thistle could also be confused with Dandelions, and members of the true thistle family, Cirsium, but both of these are edible. Dandelions do not have spikes on the edges of their leaves, and true thistles have much tougher leaves.

Food plant of
Cattle, deer, and rabbits. The flowers also provides a summer nectar source for pollinators

Range and distribution
Native to Europe and Asia, though can be found in most temperate regions

Bare ground, pavement cracks, agricultural land, and garden borders

Physical characteristics
Looks like a true thistle, but the leaves are much softer. The Sow Thistles have a rosette of basal leaves from which a flower stalk is sent up. The flowers are similar in appearance and colour to Dandelions. When the leaves are split, they exude a white sap or “latex”

Folklore, tall tales, and not so folklore:
The “milk” of the sow thistle has been used as a folk remedy for warts

Edible use
Should be eaten before flowering, after which time the plant becomes bitter. The leaves and stem can be eaten raw in salads, or steamed and used in the same way as spinach. The leaves of the basal rosette tend to have more spikes, but are generally less bitter

It has been used for various reasons, including as a sedative, tonic, blood purifier, and hepatic, as well as a treatment for warts.
If you have a medical complaint, please see your doctor