Saturday, May 8, 2010

Weed of the Week: Sow Thistle

Sonchus oleraceus or Common Sow Thistle is a close cousin of lettuce and will be eaten by livestock in preference to grass. It can grow over six feet tall and it reseeds profusely, with clear plans for world domination, a fact I will attest to, having seen it first hand in this yard.

The specimen pictured above is about three feet tall and you can see the zillions of seeds about to take off in the next breeze. However, once again, I have to change my attitude now that I know more of the story behind this weed.

The Latin term "oleraceus" means "really good to eat and good for you too." Those livestock are no fools (except, of course, for the ones that like to chew on black locust bark). The plant is also called "Sow Thistle" because it was fed to lactating sows to increase milk production -- in olden times plant properties were often judged by appearances, and this plant gives off a milky sap when broken or crushed. It makes good fodder for bunny rabbits too.

The leaves are bitter, albeit tasty in salads if picked young, and the bitterness is supposedly good for you. Too late in the season now to try it out, which is something of a relief.

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