Here in Australia the the annual sow thistel (Sonchus oleraceus) is considered to be a weed. You can often find it alongside roads in particular in autumn after the rain has started to set in.
Currently I do not have many of these plants in my paddocks, however whenever I go out and find the alongside the road, I go and harvest and bring a nice bunch and bring them home much to the delight of my horses.
When I first started to consider this plant, my pony had laminitic tendencies and I noticed by feeding her this plant she was much more balanced. It seemed to work as a blood purifier. So I started to investigate and found that this plant has indeed medicinal qualities to it.
Some sources report that this sow thistle has 1500mg of calcium per 100g and 45mg of iron. It’s also high in potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and a good source of vitamin C. Not to mention the phytochemicals the flavones, stilbenes, polyphenols and glycosides that exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and all round good stuff properties.
This thistle is distinctive from other thistles by the fact that it is without the spines of its relatives. It is hollow stemmed, with a milky substance exuded when the stem is broken. It has small, dandelion-like flowers, and soft, green, irregularly toothed leaves.
Note: there are 2 kinds of swo thistle: One with more prickly leaves as shown in the title image and the other one with "softer" leave edges as shown on the picture on the right. Use the one with the softer leaves for your horses. It is adored by livestock in general.
Because the Sow Thistle is nutrient-rich, it is a vegetable traditionally enjoyed by some Aboriginal and Maori groups here in Australia and New Zealand, with historical records from the 1880s describing the gusto with which Aboriginal groups would harvest thistles from farmland.
A New Zealender by the name of Mawalagedera (2009) wrote a thesis about the antioxidant value of this plant, and makes a point that the a particular New Zealand Maori population has less incidence of colorectal cancer dispite being in a very high risk group for the disease. She writes that sow thistle is a staple in the diet along with sweet potatoes, silverbeet and watercress. Perhaps these foods are offering the protective factor? She also writes the more mature plants have a higher antioxidant value.
A 2013 study reports sow thistle is may be an effective option for treating Diabetes because the high antioxidant value protects the liver, kidneys and blood plasma from damage caused by high blood sugar.
So why not reconsider this plant, commonly cursed as a weed and offer it to your furry friends as a treat?
“You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.” Antoine de Pluvinel