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Sow Thistle

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer Winter Winter

Very common, tastes just like lettuce and can be found throughout the year unless there is a really harsh Winter. There are eight species of sow thistle growing in the UK.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Sow Thistle, Hares Lettuce
Scientific Name Sonchus spp.
Season Start Jan
Season End Dec
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.

Leaves

Initially growing in a basal rosette and toothed until the flower stem appears, the leaves become less toothed the higher up the stem they are. Delicate and rather Dandelion like with a white sap when cut. The leaves of prickly sow thistle have spines on them and are best trimmed before consumption.

Flowers

Yellow and like small Dandelion flowers but many can grow from one stem, unlike Dandelions.

Seeds

Growing like a Dandelion clock.

Stem

Smooth, hollow and succulent and exuding a white latex like milk when cut..

Roots

Rather thin and woody but they can be roasted and eaten.

Habitat

Anywhere there is a bit of bare soil.

Possible Confusion

Dandelions, pictured, and similar edible species within the Sunflower family.

Taste

The leaves have a lettuce like taste only not as bitter.

Frequency

Very common.

Collecting

This plant will grow around trees and fence posts and along edges so are likely to have been visited by dogs, therefore caution should be taken as to where this plant is collected from.

Medicinal Uses

Folklore tells of this plant having many medicinal uses and it was treated just like Dandelion.

Other Facts

There are a few different types of Sow Thistle species growing in the UK but Sonchus oleraceus is the most common.
It got the name Sow Thistle from the fact that when cut the plant exudes a latex like milk which was believed to help lactation in mothering sows.
It has been used as fodder for many animals, particularly rabbits and pigs.

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