Sow Thistle – Sonchus SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Rabbit-food of Wild Plants

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Sow thistle (sonchus spp.) is not a true thistle and also non-native here. Sometimes mistakenly called milk thistle, sow thistles are another edible and medicinal plant to gobble up or feed to the pigs.

Sow thistles in these parts include field sow-thistle (sonchus arvensis), spiny-leaved sow thistle (sonchus asper), common sow-thistle (sonchus oleraceus), and sow-thistle (sonchus uliginosus). Here’s a picture of the “prickly” or spiny-leaved variety (sonchus asper):

Sow Thistle - Sonchus SPP.
Sow Thistle – Sonchus SPP.

Edible Uses of Sow Thistle

The Latin name meaning for common sow thistle, oleraceus, refers to this plant as an “edible vegetable”. This has been especially true to the taste buds of various livestock. You can eat this rabbit food too.

If you know of a patch you can pick new leaves when the plant is only a few inches tall. Young leaves can be added to mixed wild salads or used like chard. Since they are usually bitter a change of water can help. Older leaves are especially bitter and tough. And of course if you’re harvesting the prickly variety these spines need to be removed.

Medicinal Uses of Sow Thistle

Sow thistle is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent and Diuretic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the milky juice used the same as dandelion (a close relation) and succory, for skin ailments. Perhaps try it out on a pimple! Though dandelion is much more accessible.

Alternative Uses of Hare’s Lettuce

If you know anyone with pigs or rabbits, they’ll love the treat. (Make sure you’re not accidentally giving them wild lettuce!)

Growing Sonchus SPP.

Sow thistles are nonnative here in Ontario, Canada. We have native sunflowers and daisies that would make great additions to gardens.


May contain toxic levels of nitrates, so consume in moderation.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

A Modern Herbal (Volume 2, I-Z and Indexes)

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