In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Tuscan merchant Namindiu was travelling in Cyprus in the company of a Maronite. They sat on the banks of a river and Namindiu saw a crab walking towards a dead snake and started eating it. Then it went towards a plant and ate some of that before returning to the water.
The Maronite commented that the plant was called Zoncas and had the quality to preserve small animals like the crab from snake poison. Sonchus oleraceus, the common sow thistle, has a hollow, upright stem up to 30–100 cm high. It prefers full sun, and can tolerate most soil conditions. The flowers are hermaphroditic, and common pollinators include bees and flies. It spreads by seeds being carried by wind or water. Leaves are eaten as salad greens or cooked like spinach.
Native Americans had many uses for this plant. They used its gum as a "cure for the opium habit," as a cathartic, and as a food, where the leaves and stems were rubbed between the palms of the hands and eaten raw and sometimes boiled. They also used the plant as a vegetable, where the tender, young leaves were boiled in salted water with chilli and eaten as greens. Some used it as an abortifacient where the infusion of the plant was taken to 'make tardy menstruation come;' an antidiarrheal; for children that were teething; and as hog feed.
The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).