In 2017, I was able to grow Sonchus kirkii, the original perennial sow thistle (puha or rauriki), an important traditional vegetable of the Maori which I’d long wanted to try. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to overwinter it. It grows in coastal New Zealand and isn’t adapted to freezing winter temperatures and no doubt stays green all winter. I had been hoping to overwinter it and try the spring shoots, but I didn’t get the opportunity then. I relocated the original seed packet this spring, and the seed was still viable and the plants started flowering now in October and with unusually mild weather so far this winter with no serious frosts, I finally got round to trying some of the top growth in the tradional way to eat Sonchus oleraceus in Mediterranean countries, fried with garlic and chili in olive oil and added to scrambled eggs. The raw leaf was surprisingly mild, much milder than perennial Sonchus arvensis, which I’ve experienced as unpleasantly bitter in the past (young shoots in spring).
There is an 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! 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.” NZPCN states that it is “Easily distinguished from all the other naturalised Sonchus species by the very large, glaucous, non-spinose leaves” (this includes Sonchus arvensis – perennial sow thistle and annuals Sonchus asper and Sonchus oleraceus). The first picture shows a comparison of the autumn leaves of the two growing in my garden:
I think it was Nathan Shannon who sent me seed of the white-flowered variant of common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), now blooming for the first time! There are 10+ pages about Sonchus oleraceus in my book and also other blog posts on this site, probably my most used vegetable in July-August each year!
Before I go any further, I should say that 2/3 of my cultivated area is almost 100% no dig (perennials is the ultimate no dig) as I grow perennial vegetables, fruit, berries and nuts. I rarely dig in these areas at all as I only plant once and don’t disturb the plants for years. I do still grow annuals on my raised beds…beds which are about 1.2m wide and are never walked on. I add compost on most of the beds each spring and lightly dig over to incorporate the compost and, surprising to most folks, to encourage the weeds to germinate. There’s one weed in particular that I’m encouraging, Sonchus oleraceus (common sow thistle / haredylle). As I’ve written before (also in the 12 page essay in my book on the sow thistles), this is my favourite summer leafy green vegetable which I eat most days from July to September. It grows quickly and is actually more nutritious than standard greens. It’s also rich in antioxidants and I love it’s slightly bitter taste which goes well with pretty well any dish I might prepare, always mixed with other “vegetables of the day”. We ate it tonight in a pea soup and, yesterday, in a green pasta sauce and the day before that in pizza… Yesterday, I weeded my second crop broad beans which were growing in a sea of “weeds” and as I weed I selectively allow the sow thistle to grow on between the beans and on the edge of the bed (you can think of this as “WEEDING YOUR WEEDS”). The video and pictures show the broad beans with the young self-seeded sow thistle plants in between. These will grow up quickly in the next 2-3 weeks and I harvest just before they start flowering. This doesn’t interfere with the growth of the broad beans which take much longer to mature to harvest. Later on, the next wave of sow thistle will be allowed to grow on the edges of all the beds where it doesn’t interfere with the main crops, a method used by the Maori of New Zealand which inspired me to introduce Sonchus oleraceus to my garden. Eating your weeds can significantly increase your yield. I must admit that I love weeding, a quiet time in the garden observing wildlife around me…….similarly, I love washing up, both quiet times contemplating. There’s even a name for weeds that are cropped…it’s a cryptocrop. Cryptocropping has been practised by many other peoples around the world. Any nutrients or soil which might be washed out from my annual beds during periods with naked soil ultimately end up in my forest garden and perennial plantings below, so are not lost! However, there isn’t much loss as my soil is high in humus after over 35 years adding compost! I’ve tried no dig in the past, but I would need a much bigger area to produce sufficient material for mulching and I also found that in my shady cool garden the soil heated up much too slowly and slugs were also a bigger problem. In the video, I zoom into the low growing young sow thistle plants between the taller broad bean plants:
Tonight’s pizza ingredients found on a random forage in the garden: 3 different day lily species flower buds, including the first yellow Hemerocallis altissima, H. citrina (in the middle) with Malva moschata and M. alcea, second flush nettles, Campanula trachelium (new leaves after cutting down), Sonchus oleraceus (common sow thistle) and broad beans, with shallots, garlic, chili, oregano and topped with the year’s first poppy seed!
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!