Herb of the month – September – Sow Thistle
Sonchus oleraceus – Pūhā / Pūwhā / sow thistle
A member of the Asteraceae family, this herb is one that many people consider a weed in their garden. It is flourishing at this time of year, and if you aren’t aware of its nutritional and medicinal uses, you may just pull it out (New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, 2021).
Pūhā is an important plant to many Māori, while it is an introduced species to Aotearoa, it is a significant food and medicine which has been used historically. It is eaten today by many in different meals including boil-up. Boil-up is a nourishing broth can be made from meat and bones, greens (including pūhā and watercress), kūmara and potatoes, although there are many variations (Landcare Research, 2021).
Eating pūhā is an excellent way to get a nutrient boost, it is high in beta-carotene, a plant chemical that is a precursor to vitamin A and possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions (Ganora, 2009). Pūhā contains high levels of folate, vitamin C and some minerals including manganese, calcium and iron (New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research & Ministry of Health, 2018).
Pūhā can be utilised like spinach, cooked, seasoned and added to meals as a side dish, or as a nutrient-dense addition to meals including omelettes, soups and stews. It can be eaten raw in salads but can have a bitter taste especially if it is an old plant, go for the younger leaves if eating raw.
If you want to increase your nutrient intake by foraging plants that are commonly found in backyards, Pūhā is an excellent choice. It can be identified by its milky sap, bright yellow composite flowers which bloom from spring to summer and sometimes tinted red/purple stems (International Environmental Weed Foundation, 2005). Ensure you are foraging in an area away from roads, that hasn’t been sprayed by herbicides/pesticides and be certain of your plant identification before ingesting any plants. It can be helpful to go foraging with someone who has experience if you are not confident in your identification skills.
By Patrice Kelly Naturopathy Tutor at Wellpark College
Copyright Ⓒ 2021 Wellpark College of Natural Therapies
Ganora, L. (2009). Herbal consituents: Foundations of phytochemistry. Louisville, CO: Herbalchem Press.
International Environmental Weed Foundation. (2005). Sonchus oleraceus. Retrieved from http://www.iewf.org/weedid/Sonchus_oleraceus.htm
Landcare Research. (2021). Sonchus oleraceus. Retrieved from https://maoriplantuse.landcareresearch.co.nz/WebForms/PeoplePlantsDetails.aspx?firstcome=firstcome&PKey=419d58d5-9ced-46d3-9f6a-e1d5e0645257&theSearchString=puha&SearchType=1&SearchPage=0&SearchDB=1&SearchGroup=&FieldSearch1=&FieldSearch2=&FieldSearch3=&Field1=1&Field2=1&Field3=1&FromSearch=true
New Zealand Institute of Plant and Food Research & Ministry of Health. (2018). Puwha, sow thistle, leaves & upper stem, raw. Retrieved from https://www.foodcomposition.co.nz/search/food/X107/nip
New Zealand Plant Convervation Network. (2021). Sonchus oleraceus. Retrieved from https://www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora/species/sonchus-oleraceus/