Puha / Rauriki
Puha, Rauriki, Sonchus Oleraceous
'Puha' is a Sow Thistle from the Sonchus family.
It’s a very common misconception that ‘Puha’ is native to New Zealand. I hate to break it to you, but it is not. What most people refer to as ‘Puha’ is in fact Sonchus Oleraceous, a very common & widespread plant in the Sow Thistle family, originating from the Mediterranean, where it is one of the most commonly eaten wild plants.
This variety of Puha was likely introduced to NZ by early settlers, and in fact there are reports of Captain Cook feeding it to his crew to ward of scurvy (it’s very high in Vitamin C).
There IS a NZ native sow thistle, called Sonchus Kirkii. However I’ve never sighted this one and what most people refer to as Puha is the imported Sonchus Oleraceous.
Another common relative is Sonchus asper, or Spiny Sow Thistle, looking very similar but super jagged and slightly prickly, also edible. Dandelion is a completely different plant.
The name Sonchus derives from the Greek word for ‘hollow’ as the stems are hollow. The reference to ‘Sow’ appears to come from an old belief of some farmers that the milky substance exuded from the stems may help Sows (female pigs) to produce more breastmilk. While this has never been proven, it is a highly nutritious plant.
Origins sorted, let’s get into this amazing plant, that thrives year round with an incredibly high nutritional profile & an amazing list of medicinal properties!
Sonchus Oleraceous is higher in omega 3, zinc & maganese than any of the domesticated greens. Just reflect on that for a moment. It contains Vitamins A, B1, B2, is high in Vitamin C, and has minerals Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Copper & Zinc. Studies have shown that it has very high antioxidant levels, much more than blueberries.
Let’s just summarise that Puha is REALLY good for us, and the great news is that it is so ABUNDANT all over NZ, growing year round. I usually have it self seed and pop up in my vege garden all through winter.
The tender young leaves are delicious, nice, crunchy, flavorsome lettuce alternatives. The older the leaves get the more bitter, but cooking reduces the bitterness, and they work beautifully in cooked dishes.
In Rongoa practices, Puha is used as a nutritive tonic (especially during or after sickness), and is used during childbirth to assist with the expulsion of the placenta. It has blood purifying properties, it's bitter properties can stimulate the digestive system, relieve constipation, whilst also supporting the liver & kidneys. It has astringent properties and the iron content makes it good for anaemia & iron deficiencies.
You'll find Puha featuring in many classic recipes such as the Kiwi Boil Up, and I’ve heard many stories about ‘bashing’ or ‘pounding’ the plant before cooking to reducing bitterness.
Many confuse Puha with Dandelion, which once you know how to ID is nothing like Puha. You’ll learn proper ID of Dandelion in my Hot Season Foraging Guide, and Puha will feature in my upcoming Foraging Guide, which I’m currently working on.
Check out & download my guides under the tab 'Foraging Guides'.