Puha (Sonchus oleraceus) or (Sonchus asper) are lushly going up to flower now in September/October. I
notice that the pony is seeking Puha out to eat and spring is the time many indigenous people including Māori gather it for making their boil ups. It is a well known spring tonic.
What does Puha look like? It’s a soft, succulent, tall, leafy annual reaching up to a metre. It starts out growing in a rosette, from which comes a tall stem with lots of flower buds. I thought the buds had woolly aphids because of the white substance at the base of the buds, but it’s not diseased just part of the plant. Yellow flowers appear followed by seeds with hairs that enable them to fly away like dandelion seeds. The leaves are soft, mid to dark green, hairless, smooth and divided into lobes, the one near the stem, wraps around the stem, sort of ear shaped. The stem is hollow, hairless and contains a milky sap.
Puha’s name oleraceus (Lat.) (photo left) means ‘of the vegetable garden’ and that’s where you’ll find it growing in your flower or vegetable garden, pasture or waste places.
Prickly sow thistle(Sonchus asper), a related species has leaves that are glossy, with wavy, spiny margins. Raurōroa Sonchus kirkii is a native species of prickly sow thistle found on wet coastal cliffs.
What makes this plant so good for us is its mildly bitter taste which stimulates digestion, the liver bile production and the kidneys. Don’t worry though cooking reduces the bitterness and in a smoothie you don’t taste it. To me it is less bitter than some of the dandelion plant types. Traditionally a way to reduce the bitterness is after harvesting roughly bruise the stems and then wash under running water. The stems, tender young leaves and flower buds can then be cooked with other food. Crowe adds that the sailors on Cook’s second voyage ate Puha in salad and cooked with peas and broth providing the men with Vitamin C.
Puha is mineral rich and good for the blood indicated by the reddish stems and the white milky sap is a mood enhancer and antidepressant. Here’s a breakdown of the nutrients per 100g, a whopping 30-40mg Vitamin C, 28g protein, 1500mg calcium, 500mg phosphorus, 45.6mg iron, other vitamins and minerals.
Recipe: Quinoa With Puha Flowerbuds
1 cup raw Quinoa will provide two cups cooked
Cook the 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups water – takes about 20 minutes for all the water to be absorbed.
Gather one cup of Puha flowers and unopened flower buds.
Stir fry these in coconut oil – you could add garlic as well.
Salt to taste. Voila the simplest recipe – add the flowers to the quinoa and enjoy!