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Chenopodium comes from the Greek chen, meaning goose, podus or foot.
Fat Hen was considered important enough in Anglo-Saxon times to have places named after it.
Fat Hen has been used as a wild vegetable since ancient times in Europe, and its remains have been found in Britain’s Bronze Age sites and pre-Norman sites in Ireland.
According to several sources, it was among the most commonest wild spinach. However, the introduction of spinach from southwest Asia eventually replaced Fat Hen in British and European cooking.
While in America, the introduction of maize and beans gradually replaced the use of the plant.
Fat Hen is said to sometimes resemble dock (Rumex obtusifolius) because of its broad leaves and spikes of green flowers. It is, however, unrelated to the dock.
Several species are native to Britain, Europe, and western Asia and naturalised in North America.
Habitat and Distribution
An opportunistic plant species that can take root in wastelands, disturbed ground, roadsides, fields, compost heaps, rubbish dumps and gardens.
Parts Used for Food
Plants are annual or perennial, with various flowering times depending on the species.
Food Uses of Fat Hen
Chenopodium seeds are rich in starch. These can be ground and added to flour to bake bread, cake, biscuits, pancakes or muffins. Alternatively, add the seeds to salads, and stir-fries or use them as sprouted seeds.
The leaves and young stem tips of Fat Hen can be used as a spinach substitute. The tender leaves can also be used to make salads, stir-fries, sauces or pesto.
The water in which the tender greens are cooked can be saved and drunk as a nutritional broth or frozen as stock cubes.
The young budding flowers can be cooked and eaten by steaming and tossing in butter like broccoli.
Fat Hen Recipes
Nutritional Profile of Fat Hen
Chenopodium greens are rich in protein, vitamins A, B1, B2 and C, and niacin, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
The seeds of some species are higher in lipids and nutrients such as calcium and magnesium than many other grains.
Herbal Medicine Uses of Fat Hen
Chenopodium spp. are occasionally mentioned in old herbals as a treatment for an ailment of the times, such as scurvy, sores and gout.
The plant may still be used to treat inflammation, rheumatism or toothache.
The crushed roots can be used for soap, or the oil obtained from the roots can be used as a skin emollient.
Fat Hen is high in oxalates (see here). The greens contain oxalic acid (oxalates) that could affect calcium absorption or which may cause mouth irritation when eaten raw or in excess. Avoid if you have kidney stones.
Some herbalists suggest that the seeds of Chenopodium may be toxic if eaten in excess. Others say the seeds should not be eaten because of their rich saponin content. They may pose a risk to people suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, liver disease or intestinal inflammation.
Take care not to mistakenly identify the lookalike plant Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum), which is poisonous.
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