Sonchus oleraceus

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Common sowthistle
Sonchus February 2008-1.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Cichorieae
Genus: Sonchus
S. oleraceus
Binomial name
Sonchus oleraceus
L. 1753 not Wall. 1831

Sonchus oleraceus, with many common names including common sowthistle,[2] sow thistle,[3] smooth sow thistle, annual sow thistle, hare's colwort, hare's thistle, milky tassel, milk thistle,[4] soft thistle,[4] or swinies, is a plant in the dandelion tribe within the daisy family. It is native to Europe and western Asia.

Its specific epithet oleraceus means "vegetable/herbal".[5][6] (For the generic name's etymology, see Sonchus.) The common name ‘sow thistle’ refers to its attractiveness to swine, and the similarity of the leaf to younger thistle plants. The common name ‘hare's thistle’ refers to its purported beneficial effects on hare and rabbits.[7]

Botanical characteristics[edit]

This plant is annual herb with a hollow, upright stem of up to 30–100 cm high.[8] Prefers full sun, and can tolerate most soil conditions. The flowers are hermaphroditic, and common pollinators include bees and flies.[9] It spreads by seeds being carried by wind or water.

This plant is considered an invasive species in many parts of the world, where it is found mostly in disturbed areas.[10][11] In Australia it is a common and widespread invasive species, with large infestations a serious problem in crops.[12]

Rucinate leaf of Sonchus oleraceus
Flower of Sonchus oleraceus

Nutritive qualities[edit]

Green salad with carrot, cucumber, onion, Sonchus oleraceus leaves, and tomato slices.

Leaves are eaten as salad greens or cooked like spinach. This is one of the species used in Chinese cuisine as kŭcài (苦菜; lit. bitter vegetable).[13] The younger leaves are less bitter and better to eat raw. Steaming can remove the bitterness of older leaves.[14]

Nutritional analysis reveals 30 – 40 mg of vitamin C per 100g, 1.2% protein, 0.3% fat, 2.4% carbohydrate. Leaf dry weight analysis per 100g (likely to vary with growing conditions) shows: 45g Carbohydrate, 28g protein, 22g ash, 5.9g fibre, 4.5g fat; in all, providing 265 calories.

Calcium: 1500 mg
Phosphorus: 500 mg
Iron: 45.6 mg
Magnesium: 0 mg
Sodium: 0 mg
Potassium: 0 mg
Zinc: 0 mg;

A: 35 mg
Thiamine (B1): 1.5 mg
Riboflavin (B2): 5 mg
Niacin: 5 mg
B6: 0 mg
C: 60 mg


Sonchus oleraceus has a variety of uses in herbalism. It also has been ascribed medicinal qualities similar to dandelion and succory.[7] The early Māori people of New Zealand are likely to have gathered it for food and medical use.[15]

Native Americans had many uses for this plant. Pima used its gum as a "cure for the opium habit," as a cathartic, and as a food, where the "{l}eaves and stems {were} rubbed between the palms of the hands and eaten raw" and sometimes "boiled." The Yaqui used the plant as a vegetable, where the "{t}ender, young leaves boiled in salted water with chile and eaten as greens." The Kamia (Kumeyaay) "boiled {the} leaves {and} used {it} for food as greens." The {Houma} used it as an abortifacient where an "{i}nfusion of {the} plant {was} taken to 'make tardy menstruation come;'" an antidiarrheal; for children that were teething; and as hog feed.[16]


This plant can often be controlled by mowing, because it does not regrow from root fragments.[11] Attempts at weed control by herbicide, to the neglect of other methods, may have led to proliferation of this species in some environments.[17]


  1. ^ The Plant List, Sonchus oleraceus (L.) L.
  2. ^ "Sonchus oleraceus". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  3. ^ Sonchus oleraceus at Plants For A Future
  4. ^ a b International Environmental Weed Foundation, retrieved 24 December 2015
  5. ^ Parker, Peter (2018). A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners. Little Brown Book Group. p. 328. ISBN 978-1-4087-0615-2. oleraceus, holeraceus = relating to vegetables or kitchen garden
  6. ^ Whitney, William Dwight (1899). The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. Century Co. p. 2856. L. holeraceus, prop. oleraceus, herb-like, holus, prop. olus (oler-), herbs, vegetables
  7. ^ a b "A Modern Herbal | Sow-Thistles". Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  8. ^ Tanaka, Yoshitaka; Van Ke, Nguyen (2007). Edible Wild Plants of Vietnam: The Bountiful Garden. Thailand: Orchid Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-9745240896.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Sonchus oleraceus Archived 2007-04-28 at the Wayback Machine at Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants Archived 2007-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b Sonchus oleraceus L., Asteraceae, Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER)
  12. ^ "Common sowthistle Sonchus oleraceus". Weeds Australia. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  13. ^ "Kucai". Baidu Encyclopedia (苦菜_百度百科) (in Chinese). Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  14. ^ Nyerges, Christopher (2016). Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America: More than 150 Delicious Recipes Using Nature's Edibles. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-4930-1499-6.
  15. ^ Cambie, Richard C; Ferguson, Lynnette R (2003). "Potential functional foods in the traditional Maori diet". Mutation Research/Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis. 523-524: 109–117. doi:10.1016/S0027-5107(02)00344-5. ISSN 0027-5107. PMID 12628508.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Management of common sowthistle | Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry | Queensland Government". 2012-08-16. Retrieved 2013-01-16.

External links[edit]