Sow thistle and dandelion are close enough relatives that they are often mistaken for each other. The fact that they look alike and have some nutritional properties in common may lead you to believe that the two herbs are interchangeable. They can be used in some of the same applications, but not always. If you have the opportunity to use either and are trying to decide between them, it is essential to be aware of their differences. The SPICEography Showdown below outlines how sow thistle and dandelion compare to each other.
How does sow thistle differ from dandelion?
Sow thistle is considerably less bitter than dandelion. While older sow thistle leaves can have some bitterness, younger leaves are mildly flavored. Younger leaves are closer to lettuce in terms of their mildness. Dandelion leaves tend to be bitter; the bitter flavor is usually a positive attribute for fans of dandelion. Dandelion leaves are usually blanched to eliminate some of their bitterness. Blanching is not necessary with sow thistle.
You will be able to tell by looking at the leaves that the plants are related; however, they are still different enough for you to tell them apart easily. Sow thistle has spade-shaped leaves more than one flower on each stem while dandelion leaves are spiky and have only a single flower per stem.
The roots of sow thistle are finer than those of dandelion, which means that they are easier to peel. Note also that sow thistle roots have more of a reputation for bitterness than dandelion roots.
Can you use sow thistle as a substitute for dandelion and vice versa?
Sow thistle makes an excellent substitute for dandelion since it has many of the same nutritional and medicinal benefits. It is an especially good dandelion alternative if you want a leafy green with less bitterness. Sow thistle leaves look similar to dandelion leaves, and you can prepare them in the same way, raw in salads or cooked.
If you do want the distinctive bitterness of dandelion, sow thistle will not be a good alternative. Similarly, dandelion may not be a good substitute for raw sow thistle leaves if you need a green that is as mild as sow thistle. If you plan to cook the dandelion, it may work since cooking makes it less bitter.
The roots are interchangeable if you need a coffee substitute. You can prepare both of them in the same way — by roasting and grinding then steeping them. Both roots may also be peeled and boiled like any other root vegetable, but the roots are the reverse of the greens with the sow thistle roots possibly being the more bitter of the two. The degree of bitterness can vary from plant to plant and may depend on the soil from which it grows as well as the age of the plant.
When should you use sow thistle and when should you use dandelion?
Use sow thistle in salads and other raw preparations if you want a less bitter herb. It would be a good option for meals served to younger children or less adventurous eaters. Use dandelion if you want a more flavorful option. If you are cooking the roots, use dandelion roots as the milder option and sow thistle as the more flavorful one.