There is a saying in Chinese: ’When the spring wind blows, sow thistles thrive. Wild plains turn into stores of food.’ (春风吹,苦菜长,荒滩野地是粮仓)

There are 24 seasons in the Chinese calendar and the eighth season is known as Xiao Man (小满). Xiao Man is in the fourth lunar month and often takes place in late May in the western Gregorian calendar. Not incidentally, Xiao Man is also the time when the Chinese forage for sow thistles and other wild vegetables.

Why is that so? This is because vegetables crops such as cabbages are still young at this moment, and there are very good reasons to pick out the edible weeds and eat those instead. Secondly, wild vegetables such as sow thistles are the most tender. Once they get older, sow thistles get bitter and hard.

The tradition of eating sow thistles during the Xiao Man season in China was first recorded in the Book of Zhou (周书), one of the 24 historic records of Chinese history:

小满之日苦菜秀 ’The days of Xiao Man are sow thistles are their best

And that dates from the 7th century.

 

Sow thistles are known to help get rid of toxins in the body. You can add them to salads, add them to rice congees or blanche them like in my recipe below. This dish is great as a side, or as an appertizer. In terms of culinary style, this is more a northern Chinese dish, as southern Chinese prefer to cook their greens and they do not eat raw salads.

 

Ingredients:

  • 6-7 leaves of sow thistles
  • 6cm section of cucumber
  • Half tsp salt
  • Half tsp sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Garnish: half tsp sesame seeds

Serving: 1 person

Instructions:

  1. Wash your sow thistle leaves very thoroughly in water. Chop them in strips. If your leaves are too old (and hard), remove the central stem before cutting them into smaller pieces.
  2. Boil a saucepan of water and blanche your leaves. Once cooked (10 seconds), sieve them and leave aside to cool down.
  3. Cut up your cucumber into quarters, then slice.
  4. Squeeze the water out of your sow thistle. In a mixing bowl, mix all your ingredients with the cucumber and sow thistles.
  5. Put them on a plate, garnish with sesame seeds before serving.

 

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