Common names: Sow Thistle, Smooth Sow Thistle, Annual Sow Thistle
Taxonomic name: Sonchus oleraceus
Uses: food, liver complaints, allergies
Area of origin: Europe, Western Asia
Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) the most common Thistle growing around Gawler. It is an annual, coming out in late spring and lasting until early Winter, although some are seeing the whole year through nowadays). It grows to about a metre tall in this area, though I’ve heard of it being much taller in others.
The whole plant is edible, all parts can be eaten cooked or raw, but pick the youngest, freshest parts as Sow Thistle gets more bitter with age.
Like other Thistles, Sow Thistle has a bitter, white sap. This sap has been used topically for warts, liver spots and skin blemishes.
Taken internally, the bitter sap boosts liver and gall bladder function, increasing energy through improved digestion. That improved digestion helps us digest and absorb the nutrients in Sow Thistle such as Vitamin C and many minerals, especially Calcium, Phosphorus and Iron. It also has vitamins A, B1 and B2.
The sap, like that of many related plants is a ‘soporific’ that is it helps us sleep. The sleep from the components in the Lettuce family is a gentle one without the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
Sow Thistle can be identified best through its angular stem which varies from red in patches to completely red, though it is a little more burgundy than red according to Jelina who knows such things better than I.
The leaves of a Sow Thistle clasp around the stem at their base and are deeply toothed. They alternate up the stem.
Flowers are similar to Dandelion flowers but grow on multiple stems (Dandelion usually only has one flowering stem).
Sow Thistle can be differentiated from Catsear, which has similar flowers but the stems are much thicker and angular whereas Catsear are thinner and wiry. When you break the stem of Sow Thistle, there is that sap which isn’t present in Catsear.
If you’ve got birds or animals, they will go crazy over the stuff and often eat it in preference to anything else.