Sow Thistle

May 26, 2014


Sonchus asper

Native Range: Eurasia

Invasive range: In every US State and most of Canada

Habitat: Common in disturbed sites, also found in pastures, hay fields, dunes, riparian areas, orchards, and wetlands.

Description: Leaves are lanceolate, with wavy margins, covered in spines on both the margins and beneath, and bluish-green in color. Grows yellow flowers resembling dandelions that sprout in clusters at the end of stems. Can reach up to 6 feet in height.

It is 1773. Captain Cook’s men, foraging, find a Sow Thistle at Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand. Which they proceed to devour along with several other “excellent vegetables,” invaders introduced from Polynesia: wild taro, two kinds of air potato, the paper mulberry, and the cabbage tree, a Cordyline. All but the last in that list go on to become invaders in North America. And the Age of Great Plant Hunters isn’t over yet.

Sow thistle can be found just about everywhere.

Less bitter than dandelion, sow thistle leaves are said to be a good source of vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Young leaves provide substance and depth of flavor to other greens, and in salads the yellow flowers prove a bright addition. Are you intimidated by the prickly spines on the edges of the leaves? Stir-frying will soften them. Did a nibble on a leaf make you think it’s too bitter to eat? Simmer them for ten or so minutes––cooking gets rid of the bitterness. Old leaves also go well in soup. Grated nutmeg, butter, and broth marry nicely with this weed. The roots can be roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute.

According to New Yorker writer Jane Kramer the local word for sow thistle in Cumbria is crespina. Be careful of the spiky center rib, writes Kramer: “I regard the small scar that I got that day as a forager’s mark of initiation.”

Even in recipes, you can trace an invader’s history. The Cambridge World History of Food, says of Maori cuisine in New Zealand, “Of the European animals, the pig–well established and running wild by the early 19th century––was the earliest and most successful introduction . . . . In fact pork and white potatoes joined native puha (sow thistle) and sweet potatoes, foods from the sea, and birds from the forest as the Maori diet in the early decades of the nineteenth century.”


Eat The Weeds: Sow Thistle


To get the most out of harvesting sow thistle, its good to look for younger weeds, which are flavorful and best to harvest when they are about 4 to 12 inches high. Older plants can be simmered to reduce bitterness and soften the prickly spines.

Sow thistle is especially difficult to eradicate, as the white brittle roots can penetrate several feet into the soil, producing new plants from small root pieces.

Texas forager Merriwether Vorderbruggenlower picks buds before they open and places them in leftover pickle juice, letting them soak for six weeks. (We love the reuse of pickle juice!) Enjoy like capers.


Sautéed Wild Serralha

From Weird Combinations
The author describes a simple and mouth-watering Brazilian preparation, typically served with rice and beans, fried egg, and tomato salad (see above).

1 huge bunch of sow thistle, about two pounds
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Heat olive oil in a deep pan. Add garlic and sauté till fragrant and translucent. Add sow thistle, salt, and pepper. Toss. Cover pan and let it cook until volume is reduced to less than half.

Adjust flavor to your taste with more salt, pepper or olive oil.

The serralha bread shown at top is from Neide Rigo, author of the Brazilian blog Come-se. For those who speak Portuguese, an amazing culinary experience awaits. We look forward to translating and baking this; if any readers beat us to it, please let us know and we’ll publish your results.

Sow Thistle with Red Onion, Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts
From Foraging Foodie

1 bunch of sow thistle leaves (about one pound)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced (or more if you like)
Goat cheese, crumbled
Pine nuts
Olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper
Nutmeg to taste

Rinse, chop and boil the Sow thistle leaves for a few minutes. Drain. Heat olive oil in a big fry pan and saute the red onion for three minutes. Add minced garlic and saute for another minute. Lower the heat to medium and add the Sow thistle leaves while stirring (they will shrink so you can keep adding leaves). When they’re all shrunk, add some chicken broth and cover, simmer for ten minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in a couple of table spoons of crumbled goat cheese, or to taste, and pine nuts.

Sow Thistle Lasagna

From Celtnet

1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves
1 pound canned whole tomatoes
9 lasagna pasta sheets
one pound of cooked sow thistle leave (can be sautéed as above)
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
olive oil
dried basil
dried oregano
black pepper

Add oil to a pan and fry the onion until translucent, then add the garlic and as much of the dried basil and oregano as you like along with the tomatoes. Season well then bring to a simmer and mash the tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Place a layer of lasagna sheets on the base of 9″ by 13″ pan (other sizes are fine as long as they fit the lasagna sheets). Add a layer of ricotta cheese on top, followed by a layer of tomatoes, and a layer of sow thistle greens. Repeat the process and cover the dish generously with a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese.

Cover the dish with foil and place in an oven preheated to 350° and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for 5 minutes to brown the top. Serve immediately.


Foraging foodie has a list of simple and tasty sow thistle recipes including Buttery Sow Thistle, Stir-fried Sow Thistle and Pork, and Sautéed Sow Thistle

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Foraged Foodie March 23, 2016 at 7:28 pm

I recently made the leaves of sow thistle like kale chips: tossed with olive oil and seasonings, and roasted in the oven. They came out fantastic!

I can provide you with the text for the recipe if you like – to put on the sidebar there, but it’s also here:


pete November 2, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Great site, videos, articles… this giant can’t be green enough and loves his plant life edibles! By any chance can anyone connect me with any foragers or foraging groups/classes/teachers (free) in Northern New Jersey/ Bergen County/ Hudson County even?


Mike May 18, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Thanks Green Deane! Wonderful video!


Leave a Comment



Wild Pig

Did the domestic ancestors of today’s feral pigs streak off De Soto’s ship into the Florida scrub of their own accord in 1539? Or did they have to be urged to go find something to eat? All you need to…


Garden Snail

Deliberately or accidentally, by the movement of plants and by hobbyists who collect snails, humans have spread the garden snail to temperate and subtropical zones around the world.


Garlic Mustard

  Alliaria petiolata Native range: Europe, Asia, Northwest Africa Invasive range: Much of the Lower 48, Alaska, and Canada. (See map.) Habitat: Moist, shaded soil of floodplains, forests, roadsides, edges of woods, and forest openings. Often dominant in disturbed areas. Description: Biennial herb. First-year plant has a rosette of green leaves close to the ground. […]

nopales con huevo

Prickly Pear

Fall is here, and the “cactus fig” is in season. Time to plate-up another widespread invader.

Screen Shot 2012-11-18 at 8.02.21 AM

Sow Thistle

It’s spring and time to weed. Sow thistle is a delicious invader found throughout the continent.




Asian Shore Crab

The first sighting of the Asian shore crab in the United States was at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey, in 1988. Though the source is unknown . . .



The common periwinkle, which first appeared in New England in the 1860s, is now found along the coast wherever there’s hard substrate–rocks, riprap, broken concrete, or docks–from Labrador to . . .

Pterois volitans


Some say it started in 1992 in Miami when Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank. Don’t blame the weather, others say; in the mid-nineties, disappointed yet softhearted hobbyists…

chuka wakame


  Undaria pinnatifida Native range: Japan Sea Invasive range: Southern California, San Francisco Bay, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Argentina Habitat: Opportunistic seaweed, can be found on hard substrates including rocky reefs, pylons, buoys, boat hulls, and abalone and bivalve shells. Description: Golden brown seaweed, growing up to nine feet. Forms thick canopy. Reproductive sporophyll in […]


Green Crab

Since the green crab was first recorded off southern Massachusetts in 1817, it has been hard to ignore. A few minutes of rock-flipping in Maine can turn up dozens of them, brandishing their claws as they retreat…



Armored Catfish Meatballs (1)

Armored Catfish

The armored catfish is abundant and destructive in Florida, Texas, and Mexico. Cast your nets for these flavorful natives of the Amazon. Scientific name: Two types have become established in North America: armadillo del rio, Hypostomus plecostomus, and sailfin catfishes in genus Pterygoplichthys Native range: Amazon River Basin Invasive range: Texas, Florida, and Hawaii; also […]

Picture 1

Common Carp

For a bottom-feeder, what is the good life? The common carp isn’t very demanding: any body of water that’s sluggish and murky will do. If the water is clean, and you’ve got corn for bait, try one of these recipes.



  Nasturtium officianale Native Range: Northern Africa, Europe, temperate Asia, and India Invasive Range: In USA: all lower 48 states, except North Dakota. Found in Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Also southern Canada, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Australasia, and parts of tropical Asia. Habitat: Common along stream margins, ditches, and other areas with […]



  There are numerous invasive crayfish. We include details for the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) and the rusty crayfish (Orenectes rusticus). The same recipes can be used for both species–and many other invasive crayfish. Red Swamp Crayfish Native range: Known as Louisiana crayfish, crawdad, and mudbug, Procambarus clarkii is native to the south central […]



Nutria, also known as coypu and river rat, is native to temperate and subtropical South America. It has been introduced to Europe, Asia, and Africa, mainly for fur farming. These voracious. . .


Field Notes

Digital StillCamera

Can We Eliminate Invasive Species by Eating Them?

On restaurant menus across New England, green crabs are showing up in everything from bouillabaisse and bisques to croquettes and crudo. Read about it in Salon.


Radio Health Journal

Can adding invasives to your diet help the environment and your health? Listen to Radio Health Journal here.

Screen Shot 2022-04-08 at 7.39.53 AM

Qui veut manger des espèces invasives ?

Joe Roman chats with Camille Crosnier about eating invasives on France Inter. Listen here. In French.

Screen Shot 2022-03-12 at 7.18.19 AM

Berlin’s Invasive Species Cuisine

A Berlin food truck is opening people’s minds and mouths by feeding them a menu of invasive species with the slogan, “If you can’t beat them, eat them!” Read more about it in the Good News Network.

Screen Shot 2022-02-14 at 7.14.15 PM

Rack of Squirrel, Anyone?

Patrick Greenfield discusses the rise of invasivorism in the Guardian. Read it here.


This bounty hunter is my kind of scum: fearless and inventive.

Jabba the Hutt, Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, 1983

Previous post:

Next post: