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5 Potential Uses of Sow Thistle

Weeds are a common sight in gardens, fields and lawns. Most gardeners and farmers consider them troublesome, as weeds compete for resources such as space, water, light and soil nutrients that should go to the plants you want to grow.1

However, not all weeds are the same — some of them may actually be beneficial to your health. This applies to sow thistle, a common plant native to Europe, North Africa and West Asia, but can now found around the world.2 Take a look and see why you should plant sow thistle in your yard.

What is sow thistle and how can you identify it?

Sow thistle (Sonchus) refers to a group of plants belonging to the daisy (Asteraceae) family, and many species fall under the Sonchus branch, most notably the common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus).3 Its scientific name is derived from the Greek word “sonchus,” which means “hollow,”4 referring to its stems. The word “oleraceus,” on the other hand, roughly translates to “edible” in Latin.5

The common sow thistle plant can grow up to 40 to 150 centimeters (15 to 59 inches) tall, with an upright taproot possessing many branches.6 Since it is classified as a weed, it can grow almost anywhere there is soil, such as roadsides and fields.7 Another distinguishing feature of sow thistle is its stem, which produces a milky sap when snipped.8

The plant blooms yellow flowers that are 5 to 6 millimeters (0.20 to 0.24 inches) long. An interesting characteristic of these flowers is that they only open during the morning.9

The potential benefits of sow thistle are few but noteworthy

Despite being classified as a weed, sow thistle manages to break this stereotype, as it may actually benefit your health. An analysis indicates that common sow thistle contains a variety of minerals, namely:10

  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Manganese


Furthermore, sow thistle contains vitamin C (up to 779 milligrams) and essential fatty acids. Another notable asset of sow thistle is its high carotenoid content,11 which may help reduce the risk of eye disease.12

Published studies suggest that sow thistle may possess health benefits that may work to your advantage, including:

  • Improving antioxidant profile — In a study published in Records of Natural Products, extracts obtained from sow thistle were discovered to contain various minerals, flavonoids, flavonols and other substances that collectively work together to provide strong antioxidant properties.13
  • Lowering the risk of cancer — A 2007 Korean study indicates that sow thistle contains cytotoxic compounds that may help suppress the growth of stomach cancer cells.14
  • Managing inflammation — In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, common sow thistle was observed to help manage inflammation in carrageenan-induced paw edema in rats.15
  • Reducing anxiety — In a 2009 study, also published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, sow thistle helped reduce anxiety in rats in elevated-maze and open-field tests. Researchers noted that the plant “induced an anti-thigmotactic effect, as evidenced by the increased locomotor activity” among mice.16
  • Eliminating microbes — A 2013 study notes that sow thistle contains biotic compounds that may significantly help inhibit protease activity in HIV as compared to lopinavir, an HIV drug.17
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