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Sonchus oleraceus seed

Sonchus oleraceus

‘Smooth Sow-thistle’

Asteraceae: biennial growing to 1 m (3ft 3in). The yellow flowers are 20-30mm across, the Flower heads are grouped together in umbel-like clusters from May-October. The feathered pappus hairs forming a ‘clock’. The leaves are matt, pinnate with triangular lobes, spiny margins and clasping at the base. Brocken stems exude a milky sap. Found growing on disturbed and cultivated ground. Native to Europe, including Britain, south and east from Scandinavia to North Africa, North and West Asia.


The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, this species has the nicest tasting leaves of the genus, and they usually have a mild agreeable flavour especially in the spring. They can be added to salads, cooked like spinach or used in soups. The leaves contain about 30 – 40mg of vitamin C per 100g, 1.2% protein, 0.3% fat, 2.4% carbohydrate, 1.2% ash. It might be best, though it is not essential, to remove the marginal prickles. Stems can be cooked like asparagus or rhubarb. They are best if the outer skin is removed first. Young root can be cooked, but they are woody and not very acceptable. The milky sap has been used as a chewing gum by the Maoris of New Zealand.

The plant has emmenagogue and hepatic properties. An infusion has been used to bring on a tardy menstruation and to treat diarrhoea. The latex in the sap is used in the treatment of warts. It is also said to have anticancer activity. The stem juice is a powerful hydrogogue and cathartic, it should be used with great caution since it can cause colic and tenesmus. The gum has been used as a cure for the opium habit. The leaves are applied as a poultice to inflammatory swellings. An infusion of the leaves and roots is febrifuge and tonic.


Surface sow seeds in spring in situ. This species is seen as a weed and should not need much encouragement to germinate and grow. Very easy.


Sonchus oleraceus seed