This article was published in the Fringe, December 2012
NZ Native Puha
Pork and puha is a combination that has gone together presumably since Captain Cook beneficently let loose his pigs in 1769. The pigs multiplied and now named Captain Cookers they are ravaging our forests, sending some species towards extinction. Ground dwelling invertebrates and birds are at high risk as the omnivorous swine search for food, and many plant species are devoured in the scavengers' rooting of the soil.
The pigs have possibly contributed to the near demise of native puha on the mainland but just why Sonchus kirkii has disappeared from its former range is a mystery. Some blame "white butterflies", others say "rust and other diseases", but the evidence is lacking and in all probability puha is simply out-competed by weeds including the three exotic puha species.
Sonchus kirkii may well have grown in a wide range of habitats once but has now retreated to damp coastal cliffs where there is less competition from exotics. Interestingly, it had not been recorded in the Waitakeres for perhaps 75 years, but recently it has been reported from several sites along the coast. Does this indicate a resurgence of the species as it makes a comeback, or had it been there all along and overlooked? Hopefully some of the threats to it in the past have diminished and the native puha will again assert its right to colonise our coastal cliffs.
Puha forms a rosette of leaves 30-40 centimetres across, with broader leaves, more like a lettuce leaf, than the three introduced Sonchus species. The flowering spike which can stand 1m tall has clusters of yellow daisy flowers which turn into the typical hairy 'parachutes' that blow away in the wind to re-establish on some other damp coastal cliff.
Although not at all prickly, puha is a thistle. To make it edible the leaves should be squeezed under running water removing the bitter juices. It is undoubtedly palatable cooked or raw, although my preference is for the foliage to be lightly steeped in salted boiling water for a minute. Maori ate puha for the health benefits as it is rich in vitamins, antioxidants and iron.
Check out 'Pork and Puha' recipes on the internet. Bon appetit".