The edible weed

Wild greens are some of the essential elements of the traditional cretan cuisine.Lots of them are treated like weeds by farmers.Generally they are thought to be an inferior source of food,or so called “poor people food”,not only in the ancient Greek times but also in Byzantine era. 1During the Turkish and the German invasion in Crete, they became very famous due to the lack of food and because they were plentiful. One of these weeds is Sowthistle

A few words about the Sowthistle

Sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus) a.k.a zohos 2 is an annual plant found both in cultivated and uncultivated fields that retain moisture. Its stem is hollow and can reach up to 100 cm in height, while if snapped, it releases a distinctive milky juice.

Sowthistle in its natural form on a fiend. (Chef Syndicate Archive)
Sowthistle’s leaf 3

The plant’s leaves are simple and jagged, surrounding the stem of the plant while it is still young, i.e. in the state where we collect it for consumption. As the plant matures, the colour at the base of the leaves and the stem changes from green to bright red-purple. When the plant is fully mature, it reaches up to one meter and produces its characteristic yellow flowers.

Sketch of a mature plant where its distinctive yellow flowers are shown

Culinary Use

Sowthistle is harvested and consumed while the plant is still tender. The best period is from the beginning of autumn until the first days of spring 4 . It can be eaten using a variety of techiques such as boiled salad, raw (its core leaves) or sauteed (“tsigariasta” as they say in Crete) and added as a filling to various pies.

The taste of sowthistle is characteristically bitter and perhaps unpleasant for some people, nevertheless in Crete it is considered a vegetable of special nutritional value and very tasty. In general, Cretans consider bitter greens and roots to be a delicacy. In order to reduce the bitterness, after cleaning and washing the sowthistle, contrary to the technique you usually use for green vegetables, housewives boil the vegetable in simmering and not boiling water. Afterwards and after a fairly prolonged boiling, they are served (always in combination with other greens) with olive oil and lemon. The acidity of the lemon and the cooking method sweeten these bitter greens quite a bit, making them very tasty.

Nutritional value

Sowthistle, apart from being an edible herb, is said to be widely used as a medicinal herb, not only in Greece but also abroad. It is even very likely, according to a study, that the Maori in New Zealand knew the value of the plant and used it as food and as “medicine” 5.

As there are no official research but only laboratory studies, the nutritional analysis of sowthistle is shown in the table below. The prices are of course an average as they vary depending on the conditions in which the plant grew.

Nutrition Facts
1 servings per container
Serving size 100

Amount per serving
Calories 290
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0.3g 1%
Saturated Fat g 0%
Trans Fat g
Cholesterol mg 0%
Sodium mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 2.4g 1%
Dietary Fiber g 0%
Total Sugars g
Includes g Added Sugars 0%
Protein 1.2g

Vitamin D mcg 0%
Calcium 1500mg 116%
Iron 45.6mg 254%
Potassium 500mg 11%

The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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