I was talking on my cell phone, walking down the street, when I happened to pass this plant that I recognized: It’s sow thistle, Sonchus oleraceas. Sow thistle has bright yellow flowers and toothed, hairless leaves that resemble dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. But sow thistle grows much taller than dandelion — Sonchus can reach a height of several feet — and its leaves wrap around and clasp the stem. (By contrast, dandelion has just a basal rosette of toothed leaves and one flower per stem.)
When I plucked and tasted a leaf of the sow thistle, I was glad to find that it was really quite good. And it’s not just-good-for-wild-greens good; it’s actually good. In fact, the Latin “oleraceas” means kitchen vegetable.
The flavor reminds me of a cross between Lamb’s Quarters, a.k.a. wild spinach, as it has the same kind of richness, and dandelion, because it has a slight bitter kick to it. I liked it raw, and I think it’d be really good in a salad. In his wild food cookbook, Steve Brill recommends stir frying it in garlic and rosemary as well.
Nutritionally, sow thistle has a lot to offer: It’s high in protein, essential fatty acids, iron and other minerals, making it an especially useful find for someone on a vegan or dairy-free vegetarian diet. It also has a lot of Vitamin C.
Before it flowers, this plant could be confused with the following plants:
* Wall lettuce, Mycelis muralis, which has a distinctively different yellow flower with only five petals, and is also edible though bitter.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactuca_muralis
* Nipplewort, Lapsana spp., which has similar flowers but a shorter, finer stalk with non-clasping leaves. Edible though bitter.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/48_Lapsana_communis.jpg
* TOXIC Trail Plant aka Pathfinder, Adenocaulon bicolor. Pathfinder has markedly lighter coloration on the underside of its leaves and its flowers are tiny and white. POISONOUS, not edible. http://plants.usda.gov/java/largeImage?imageID=adbi_006_ahp.jpg
* Wild lettuce, Lactuca sp., has similar yellow flowers and toothed leaves, and if you cut the stem open, you’ll see it also has white latex inside, but wild lettuce species contain a line of hairs or spines on the underside of the leaves (prickly lettuce, Lactuca serriola, has sharp ones) whereas sow thistles do not.
A final dose of plant trivia: As you might have guessed, the common name “sow thistle” is a reference to the plant’s popularity among farm animals, particularly the piggies.
Share this post!