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    Sow Thistle Surprise

    July 13, 2019

July 13, 2019

Sow Thistle Surprise

sow thistle (sonchus oleraceus) growing in iao valley

Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is a wildly nutritious green, this one found growing out of the rocks in ʻĪao Valley on Maui this week. In addition to it's edible leaves, the flowers, flower buds, and roots can all be eaten. Green Deane's Eat the Weeds - Sow Thistle article has wonderful details of its identification and history. The main parts I like to point out are the exaggerated terminal leaflet, which is the end of the leaf is typically large, and that the leaf hugs/wraps around the stem. Sow thistle is found growing along roadsides, disturbed areas where humans have turned the soil like construction sites and as a major agricultural weed (oftentimes more nutritious than the plants farmers are growing for market).

If you learn this plant in Hawaiʻi you will find that knowledge useful if you travel to other parts of the globe as well. It is a blessing to travel to other parts of the globe and immediately, after proper identification that includes a minimum of 3 identifying characteristics, have a wild food you can identify and eat.  

sonchus oleraceus hawaii sow thistle greens

Sow thistle growing in Haiku, Maui, Hawaii. They can sometimes have a blue-green coloration to the leaves.

sonchus gone to seed in hawaii

Sonchus gone to seed in Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii. Stems oftentimes turn purple.

sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) large leaves

Greens can vary from mild to bitter, with older greens definitely having more bitterness. Sow thistle can become quite large!

lobed leaves of sow thistle

One leaf of sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), which can have varying amounts of spines on them. There is a very spiny one found in Hawaii as well, called spiny sow thistle (Sonchus asper), and the species can hybridize/cross as well.

sow thistle (sonchus oleraceus) flower hawaii

Here you can see it's yellow dandelion-like flower, which is so typical of the Asteraceae Family of plants. This one found growing in Paia, Maui, Hawaii. 


Looking for a super adventurous foraging trip? Learn to identify kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) by pulling it out for the Nature Conservancy at Waikamoi Preserve. This is a 4x4 only excursions, which they provide transportation for, up on the mountain and a phenomenal way to access this sensitive environment through service. You will see why we are trying to eradicate the kahili ginger, the scope of its threat to our endemics and the importance of tending these biodiversity hotspots. 

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