Forager Friday with Diego. In season now: sowthistle

Well.. the true is, sowthistle are in season all year round on this side of the world, as at any given time you are bound to find a sprouting, flowering, seeding or dying example of the genus.

When is cold and wet though, it likes it better, as this plant does not cope amazingly with the harsh summers of Eastern Australia. So here it is: Sonchus species.

Origins: Cosmopolitan, naturalised to Australia, cross breeding with native Sonchus.

Uses: Young leaves, raw or cooked, they can be added to salads, cooked like spinach or used in soups etc. Stems - cooked like asparagus or rhubarb. The milky sap has been used as a chewing gum by the Maoris of New Zealand.

Medicinal: The plant is emmenagogue and hepatic. An infusion has been used to bring on a tardy menstruation and to treat diarrhoea. The latex in the sap is used in the treatment of warts. The gum has been used as a cure for the opium habit. The leaves are applied as a poultice to inflammatory swellings. An infusion of the leaves and roots is febrifuge and tonic.

Sowthistles are found all over the world, there are about 60 species in the genus, and all are edible, although some might have spikes and/or taste rather bitter.

It is nevertheless enjoyed in traditional dishes all the world over, from New Zealand to Greece, From Japan to South America.

A peculiarity of the genus is that it interbreeds, making it difficult at times to tell the species apart. The leaves can vary a lot in shape and form, from juvenile to adult, but also from plant to plant, depending on conditions of growth, interferences and -I think- also due to the 'creative growth' of the plant.

Below I paste an image of three leaves to show how much they can vary.

All three leaves come from the same plant.

Familiarise yourself with the habit, texture, and look of it and this plant will quickly become an easy to spot in the fields.

Usually people tend to pull them out from their garden, considering them as unwanted weeds, yet, gardeners should just relax and say thank you. Even if you don't like the taste of it you might want to leave it in your veggie patch as it is a valuable sacrificial crop, attracting scores of beneficial insects in your garden, who love to feast on the aphids that pasture on the plant's milk.

Just a though.

Happy Friday everyone!