I love contributor Anthony Boutard's essays precisely because he never gets right to the point. Instead I'm taken on a journey on which I always learn something unexpected…in this case a little bit of Greek mythology.
If you have a pesky stepson roiling your domestic plans, send him off on a fatal errand. Such as it was with Theseus when his father was convinced to send him off to the fields of fennel where he was to kill the Cretan Bull.
Sonchus, or sow thistle.
On the way to Marathon, the youth stopped by the hut of a devotee of Hecate, the goddess of potions and herbs for sustenance. She simply fed him a big bowl of Sonchus, or sow thistle greens. On this fare alone, he captured the bull that Hercules had thoughtlessly left to terrorize the countryside, and led it back to Athens.
Subduing the massive bull required sagacity and serenity, not strength, and that is what the sow thistle provided. In kinder times before crates, it was fed to nursing sows to keep their milk flowing and disposition calm so they wouldn't roll over on the nursing piglets. Tomorrow, we will have a good quantity of this exceptional late winter pot herb, related to lettuce and chicory. It is time-consuming to harvest and clean, which is why few people gather it. We found a good patch in the Chesters that lent itself to the task, so if you all need a moment of sagacity and serenity, we have the green for you.
When the Hillsdale Farmers' Market bell rings at 10 am, we will have a robust selection of late winter greens. Sorrel, chervil, cress, horned mustard, rocket, rape, sow thistle, kale, chard, late Treviso type chicory and Catalogna chicory. The spring-like weather of the last two weeks have pushed their growth along nicely.
Detail of painting, top, by Charles-André Vanloo, called Carle Van Loo (France, 1705-1765). Photo of sow thistle by alvesgaspar.