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Tenerife medicinal herbs: Canary Island Sow Thistles are like giant Dandelions

Updated on March 4, 2014

Canary Island Sow Thistles are medicinal herbs

Canary Island Sow Thistles (Sonchus/Dendrosonchus species) are spectacular looking yellow flowered wild flowers found growing in Tenerife and the other islands. Their blooms and jagged leaves are very similar to those of the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) but the plants are so much bigger.

Some types of Canary Island Sow Thistle even grow into small trees. With their bright yellow flowers they are a conspicuous sight in spring.

These plants are medicinal herbs and have many uses in Canary Island folk medicine.

Sonchus photo

Canary Island Sow Thistle flower (Sonchus species). Photo by Steve Andrews
Canary Island Sow Thistle flower (Sonchus species). Photo by Steve Andrews

Canary Island Sow Thistles described

There are actually at least 24 different species of Sonchus that grow in the islands with some of them endemic and with very localised distribution. Others are more commonly found. Hybrids sometimes occur too making identification difficult.

The Canary Island Sow Thistles greatly resemble Dandelions because they are in the same family of plants known as the Asteraceae or Compositae. This refers to their composite flowers that are made up of lots of individual florets packed together.

Sonchus acaulis is a very large variety that is often found in Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Its roseetes of leaves can be as much as one metre across. It tends to grow on cliffs, rocky places and in forest clearings, mainly in the more mountainous areas and never in the hot and dry parts like those in the south of Tenerife. This species sometimes grows on the roofs of houses, in walls and as an epiphyte in palm trees too.

It has the characteristic deeply serrated leaves and bright yellow Dandelion-like flowers that are carried on tall flowering stalks in bunches, and these stalks can reach as much as 1.5 metres in height. It is known as "Cerrajón" in Spanish.

S. canariensis is restricted to some parts of Tenerife South and the North of Gran Canaria. It is one of the Sow Thistles that grows into a small tree of some three metres in good conditions. Its rosettes and flowering stalks are carried at the end of woody branches that spring from a trunk. It is quite a rare plant and is found in some ravines and mountainsides only.

S. hierrensis is, as its name suggests, only found in the island of El Hierro, whilst S. palmensis, not surprisingly, is from La Palma.

Sonchus foliage

Sonchus rosette showing the jagged leaves. Photo by Steve Andrews
Sonchus rosette showing the jagged leaves. Photo by Steve Andrews

Medicinal properties of the Canary Island Sow Thistles

Canary Island Sow Thistles are described in Medicinal Plants of the Canary Islands by David Bramwell as a "veritable plant medicine chest." This is because the herbs have been used as diuretics against kidney stones, for their tranquilizing and muscle relaxant effects, as antiseptic poultices, to bring down fevers, for pain relief, against migraine, to lower blood pressure, and to expel parasitic worms.

Some of the species are also believed to have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Canary Island Sow Thistle leaves, flowers and roots can be made into infusions that are taken to relieve various ailments, or the plants can be crushed and made into poultices to be applied directly to the body.

Some of the species of Canary Island Sow Thistle are thought of as better for treating specific conditions than others in the family.

The young leaves can also be eaten raw in salads although they are bitter to the taste.

© 2011 Steve Andrews


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    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Tenerife

      Thank you, Eiddwen!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Great hub and I rate up.

      Take care