Common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is now in season in my garden another plant categorised by most as a weed, but for me one of the most important vegetables in my garden from now until autumn. It even saves me work as the only thing I have to do is NOT weed it!! It is at its best when the leaves are shiny:
I made a sow thistle basil pesto last night together with basil grown in my office at the botanical gardens! I’m an office basil grower of over 40 years, having started when I was a student in 1978 (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=5221, where I made pesto and Allium wallichii, the Sherpa or Nepal onion)
Last night I used garlic and more Johannes’ shallots (Allium x cornutum; see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=22601)
Sonchus kirkii is the original perennial sow thistle (puha) of the Maori which I’ve long wanted to try (see the account in my book Around the World in 80 plants of this species and annual super(healthy)weed Sonchus oleraceus which replaced it in Maori kitchens! Probably not hardy here, I overwintered it inside having finally layed my hand on some seed! Variously known as puha, shore puha or New Zealand sow thistle (syn. Sonchus asper var. littoralis), its habitat is described by the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network as http://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora_details.aspx?ID=205: “Coastal. Usually on cliff faces in or around damp seepages where it often grows with the blue green alga Nostoc and fern Blechnum blechnoides. This species has a distinct preference for base rich rocks such as basalt, calcareous mudstones, siltstones, limestone or apatite-rich greywacke faces. On some offshore islands this species extends up into coastal scrub and herbfield. It occasionally grows on stabilised sand dunes. Indications are that this species once occupied a wider range of habitats but has retreated to those less suited to other faster growing introduced weeds.”
I will hopefully eat it for the first time next summer!
NZPCN states that “Easily distinguished from all the other naturalised Sonchus species by the very large, glaucous, non-spinose leaves” (this includes S.arvensis –perennial sow thistle and annuals S. asper and S. oleraceus)
Meanwhile, here are a few pictures:
Those that follow this blog will know that I consider common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) to be a super weed in the sense of its importance as a food and (protective) medicine plant for Homo sapiens. Inspired by the Maori tradition of “cultivating” … or tolerating this weed on their vegetable plots due to its market value…. I actually introduced this plant to my own garden and it is probably now my most used vegetable from July to September! I wrote 10 pages about it in my book Around the World in 80 plants ;)
There is, however, an ornamental sow thistle called “Custard-in-Greens” (or as the RHS spell it: “Custard ‘n’ green”). I traded seed of this with an ornamental gardener in Holland in 2003, but despite my best efforts to encourage it, its offspring were mostly not variegated. One single plant appeared in 2009, but it didn’t go to seed and I haven’t seen this form since…. I can’t find a source of seed either, so maybe it’s lost :( (Admittedly, it’s not the most ornamental plant out there, but I love the unusual, so please let me know if you know of a source!)
In summer 2009, I was invited by Sortland Gardening Club in North Norway to come and help them celebrate the fact that they had won the Norwegian Gardening Club of the Year Award. I composed a salad, mostly from my garden and transported to Sortland in a cold box. It was decorated with 4 flowers of the almost black-flowered hollyhock Alcea rosea “The Watchman” (as Sortland means Blackland!). It contained Custard-in-Greens in the ingredients list (see the bottom of this page) which is how I found it!
(from http://miamariashage.blogspot.com/2009/08/stephens-medbragte.html?_sm_au_=iHVtKTV0jncQ500M )
See also the following blog posts on sow-thistles:
COMMON SOW-THISTLE – SUPER WEEDY FOOD AND GOOD GLOBALISATION!
It would be a great project to select Sonchus oleraceus…for new improved yielding and special forms like was done with wild chicory aIt would be a great project to select Sonchus oleraceus…for new improved yielding and special forms like was done with wild chicory and other vegetables… Last winter somebody found seed of an amazing frilly sow thistle being sold in an on-line chinese vegetabe catalogue….too good to be true…I should have noticed that the seed weren’t Sonchus when I sowed them…it seems it’s just an endive :( Lost in translation?
I gave myself a little treat this week and made Indian pakora! Pakora are basically fried vegetable fritters, often sold as a starter in Indian restaurants. The vegetables were dipped in a batter made of gram (chick pea) flour, a little chili and garam masala spice. It would be interesting to use broad bean (fava) flour instead of chick peas!
I used: Day lily buds (Hemerocallis), common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), radish, red mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica atropurpurea), musk mallow (Malva moschata), Korean aster (Aster scaber), sorrel (Rumex acetosa), garden orach (Atriplex hortensis), Parsley pea (tops), Allium nutans x senescens (leaves and flower stems/buds) and Hablitzia tamnoides (tops)…..
I couldn’t resist these two packets in a Chinese seed catalogue someone tipped me about. Never seen common sow thistle seed for sale (first picture), perhaps a cultivar?…and the second is Sonchus brachyotus, which I’ve never seen seed of before, but mention in the book “Another closely related perennial species, S. brachyotus, is used by farmers in northern Jiangsu. The young rosettes are washed, mixed with wheat flour, steamed, cooled, seasoned with mashed garlic, chopped onion, salt, vinegar and soy sauce (no doubt disguising the bitter taste suggested by the name, Bitter Wheat-field Herb, in the process).”