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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.


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.


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


Growing like a Dandelion clock.


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


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


Anywhere there is a bit of bare soil.

Possible Confusion

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


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


Very common.


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.


11 comments for Sow Thistle

  1. Andrea Sintora says:

    I came across your page as I was looking at some plants that look like sow thistle and wanted to make sure. I know they’re great medicinal plants and would like to make sure they’re edible or I can also make teas to put on the skin and hair.
    I have pictures of them but I don’t have any was to show you.
    I live in Milton Keynes and the plants are in my backyard.
    Looking forward to hearing from you!

    Kind regards,


    1. Eric Biggane says:

      You’ll need to send us some clear photos for us to have a chance at an ID.

  2. Hazel says:

    I planted marjoram seeds, and have grown what I think may be sow-thistle! The leaves are extremely soft and wilt instantly on picking. The sap is clear though. Could this be because they’re just seedlings? I’d like to be sure what they are before I feed them to the bearded dragon.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      There is nothing much that looks like sow thistle that isn’t edible but if you are unsure let them grow a bit more although I have seen clear and white sap from them.

      1. Mantao Schwab says:

        I had the exact same thing, I sew majoram and now have this thistle looking plant 🙁

  3. Richard says:

    How can you to tell the difference between Sow Thistle and Groundsel?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Sow thistle has dandelion like leaves with toothed edges, groundsel has thin, deeply lobed leaves. The flowers on groundsel have green bracts covering most of the flower, these green bracts have black tips which sow thistle lacks.

  4. D R ATKINSON says:

    Are they easy to germinate? Do i have to chill the seeds first?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      I’m afraid I don’t know the answer but as it such a common plant I would have thought the seed should germinate easily.

  5. Suzi Poole says:

    I have accidentally cultivated several plants that I now believe to be sow thistles. They grew in pots from seed and are thriving! Can I supply a photo to check?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Yes, send any photos to [email protected].

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