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5 potential uses of sow thistle

Fact Checked

sow thistle

Story at-a-glance -

  • Common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is derived from the Greek word “sonchus,” referring to the plant’s hollow stems. “Oleraceus,” on the other hand, is Latin for edible
  • Sow thistle is classified as a weed, as it grows practically anywhere and its seeds can spread easily
  • Sow thistle is rich in various minerals, vitamin C, essential fatty acids and carotenoids that may benefit your health
  • Studies have shown that sow thistle may help boost your antioxidant capabilities, manage inflammation, reduce anxiety and possibly lower your risk of cancer

Weeds are a common sight in gardens, fields and lawns. Most gardeners and farmers consider them troublesome, as weeds compete for resources such as space, water, light and soil nutrients that should go to the plants you want to grow.1

However, not all weeds are the same — some of them may actually be beneficial to your health. This applies to sow thistle, a common plant native to Europe, North Africa and West Asia, but can now found around the world.2 Take a look and see why you should plant sow thistle in your yard.

What is sow thistle and how can you identify it?

Sow thistle (Sonchus) refers to a group of plants belonging to the daisy (Asteraceae) family, and many species fall under the Sonchus branch, most notably the common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus).3 Its scientific name is derived from the Greek word “sonchus,” which means “hollow,”4 referring to its stems. The word “oleraceus,” on the other hand, roughly translates to “edible” in Latin.5

The common sow thistle plant can grow up to 40 to 150 centimeters (15 to 59 inches) tall, with an upright taproot possessing many branches.6 Since it is classified as a weed, it can grow almost anywhere there is soil, such as roadsides and fields.7 Another distinguishing feature of sow thistle is its stem, which produces a milky sap when snipped.8

The plant blooms yellow flowers that are 5 to 6 millimeters (0.20 to 0.24 inches) long. An interesting characteristic of these flowers is that they only open during the morning.9

The potential benefits of sow thistle are few but noteworthy

Despite being classified as a weed, sow thistle manages to break this stereotype, as it may actually benefit your health. An analysis indicates that common sow thistle contains a variety of minerals, namely:10

  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Manganese

Furthermore, sow thistle contains vitamin C (up to 779 milligrams) and essential fatty acids. Another notable asset of sow thistle is its high carotenoid content,11 which may help reduce the risk of eye disease.12

Published studies suggest that sow thistle may possess health benefits that may work to your advantage, including:

  • Improving antioxidant profile — In a study published in Records of Natural Products, extracts obtained from sow thistle were discovered to contain various minerals, flavonoids, flavonols and other substances that collectively work together to provide strong antioxidant properties.13
  • Lowering the risk of cancer — A 2007 Korean study indicates that sow thistle contains cytotoxic compounds that may help suppress the growth of stomach cancer cells.14
  • Managing inflammation In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, common sow thistle was observed to help manage inflammation in carrageenan-induced paw edema in rats.15
  • Reducing anxiety In a 2009 study, also published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, sow thistle helped reduce anxiety in rats in elevated-maze and open-field tests. Researchers noted that the plant “induced an anti-thigmotactic effect, as evidenced by the increased locomotor activity” among mice.16
  • Eliminating microbes — A 2013 study notes that sow thistle contains biotic compounds that may significantly help inhibit protease activity in HIV as compared to lopinavir, an HIV drug.17

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How to grow sow thistle in your own home

Sow thistle seeds are hardy and can survive for a long time. A report from Garden Organic (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Association) notes that 150-year-old sow thistle seeds recovered from excavations have been reported to still be viable for germination.18

Before you start growing sow thistle, you must be prepared to monitor it constantly, or else it may overrun your garden. A single sow thistle plant can contain up to 25,000 seeds that can easily disperse through the wind, but the majority of them only end up 2 to 3 meters (6 to 9 feet) away from the parent plant.19

Since sow thistle is a type of weed, it can grow in most habitats without any problem at all.20 The real challenge is to control it while growing, especially after significant rainfall events at any time of the year, which is when sow thistle tends to germinate abundantly.21 Be sure to harvest during early spring to mid-summer, as the leaves become more bitter until autumn arrives.22

Should you be concerned with eating sow thistle?

While studies show that sow thistle can potentially benefit your health, you should adhere to eating it moderately. Researchers note that common sow thistle contains oxalic acid,23 a naturally occurring compound found in many plants (typically referred as oxalate), as a risk factor of stone formation in your kidneys.24

Cooking sow thistle: Smooth sow thistle salsa

If you haven’t tasted sow thistle before, you can try this salsa recipe adapted from Eatweeds. It incorporates the leaves of the plant, giving your regular salsa a different taste that you may enjoy:25

Smooth sow thistle salsa

Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 60 grams (2 ounces) sow thistle leaves
  • 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) soaked hazelnuts
  • 15 grams (1/2 ounce) parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • 2 teaspoons Korean red chili flakes
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, chopped

Procedure

  1. Soak the hazelnuts in boiling water for one hour. Strain and rinse afterward.
  2. While doing step 1, soak the sow thistle leaves in cold water for one hour. Remove the leaf blades from the larger leaves and discard the stalks.
  3. Crush the garlic cloves and let sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the hazelnuts, sow thistle, parsley, garlic, salt, olive oil and chili flakes in a food processor. Run the processor until all ingredients are chopped and mixed up. Don’t let the food become runny.
  5. Chop the tomatoes and place the sow thistle mixture in a bowl. Fork the tomatoes through the processed sow thistle.
  6. Serve the salsa alongside your favorite foods, such as cooked meats.

Go ahead: Grow sow thistle in your garden today

It can be easy for you to grow sow thistle in your yard as it tolerates most soil conditions and climates. However, you must be vigilant when planting this in your garden, as it can quickly overgrow your space. In the end, the benefits may be worth the effort, as you have immediate access to antioxidants, vitamins and minerals at your disposal.

+ Sources and References