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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, and most gardeners or farmers consider them troublesome. 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 definitely applies to sow thistle, a common plant that is native to Eurasia, but is now also found in the United States and most of Canada.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 in the aster (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, is Latin for "edible."5

Mature sow thistles can stand up to 1.4 meters tall. Other defining characteristics of the plant include flowers that look like daisies, hairless leaves and a smooth, hollow stem that produces a milky sap. The fruits look like an egg, but flattened and has soft, fine hairs.6

The common sow thistle plant can grow up to 40 to 150 centimeters tall, with an upright taproot possessing many branches.7 Since it is classified as a weed, it can grow almost anywhere there is soil, such as driveways, fields and meadows.8 Another distinguishing feature of  sow thistle is its succulent stem, which emits a milky sap when cut.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

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 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

Fighting  cancer — A 2007 Korean study indicates that sow thistle contains cytotoxic compounds that may help suppress the growth of stomach cancer cells.14

Managing inflammationIn a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, common sow thistle was observed to help manage inflammation in carrageenan-induced paw edema in rats.14

Reducing anxietyIn another study, 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. Dry-stored sow thistle seeds that have been preserved for a decade can still be used for planting.18 Even more impressive is how 150-year-old sow thistle seeds recovered from excavations have been reported to still be viable for germination.19

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 away from the parent plant.20

Since sow thistle is a type of weed, it can grow in most habitats without problem at all.21 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.22 Be sure to harvest during early spring to mid-summer, as autumn creates bitter leaves.23

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,24 a naturally occurring compound found in many plants that may increase the risk of stone formation in your kidneys.25

Cooking Sow Thistle: Scrambled Eggs

If you haven't tasted sow thistle before, this recipe from "Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America" introduces you to the flavors of the herb in an easy manner — by mixing it in scrambled eggs:26

Sow Thistle Scrambled Eggs

Ingredients:

6 pasture-raised eggs

3 cups sow thistle, finely chopped

1/3 cup parsley or watercress, chopped

1/2 green pepper, chopped

6 green onions, diced (ideally fresh wild onions)

1 prickly pear cactus pad, peeled and diced

Jalapeno peppers (for toppings)

Hot sauce (for toppings)

Coconut oil for cooking

Procedure:

1. Break all the begs into a mixing bowl and vigorously beat them.

2. Add the sow thistle leaves and parsley into the eggs, then the green pepper, onions and prickly pear cactus pad.

3. Mix all ingredients and pour into a frying pan coated with coconut oil.

4. Mix the eggs while cooking.

5. Once the eggs are done cooking, serve with a single jalapeno pepper and a dash of hot sauce.

Go Ahead: Grow Sow Thistle In Your Garden Today

It's quite 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.

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