Chenopod – from Ancient Greek χήν (khḗn, “goose”) + πούς (poús, “foot”)
One of the most tenacious, hardy and useful species of wild herb is the Chenopodium. The use of this family of plants has a long history. Archaeological finds suggest that some chenopods, such as fat hen, were not only collected from the wild but may in fact have been cultivated as far back as 3000 years ago (1)(2). The use of these plants as a foodstuff is drawn much further back into history as there is evidence that even neanderthal man utilised the chenopod it its diet (3). Neanderthal man was considered to have walked the earth between 300,000 BC and 40,000 BC.
- Paul Stokes & Peter Rowley-Conwy (2002) Iron Age Cultigen? Experimental Return Rates for Fat Hen (Chenopodium album L.), Environmental Archaeology, 7:1, 95-99, DOI: 10.1179/env.2002.7.1.95
- Shipley, G. P., & Kindscher, K. (2016). Evidence for the Paleoethnobotany of the Neanderthal: A Review of the Literature. Scientifica, 2016, 8927654. doi:10.1155/2016/8927654
I have previously posted on the most commonly used chenopod epazote but there are many plants in this particular family that have both culinary and medicinal applications.
In its many guises it may appear as,
- a flavouring agent (C.ambrosioides syn Teloxys ambrosioides and Dysphania ambrosioides) – locally known as Epazote. (See Post on Epazote)
- a green leafy vegetable (C.album), locally known as cenizo – “ash” – due to the colour of the underside of the leaf. Also known as fat hen, pigweed, lamb quarters or goose foot by the Europeans.
- a vegetable – huauzontles,often compared to broccoli – C.berlandieri syn C.nuttalliae.
- a pseudo-grain (C.quinoa) , which can be cooked whole, popped or ground into flour. This plant is popular in Bolivia and Peru.
- and even a medicine (C.ambrosioides), often called Wormseed (See Post on Epazote)
Huauzontle will be the subject of its own post. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.
Another less common chenopodium (at least where I live in Australia) is Good King Henry. It is a more delicate herb than other chenopodiums in that it prefers damper spoils and to grow in partial shade but like others in the species it makes an excellent pot-herb and spinach substitute. This plant is also known as “poor mans asparagus” as the growing shoots/stalks can be tied together in bundles and cooked and eaten like asparagus. The young flower buds can be sautéed in butter.
Good King Henry has medicinal uses, it is emollient, laxative and a vermifuge. A poultice of the leaves has been used to cleanse and heal chronic sores, boils and abscesses. The seed may be used as a gentle laxative that is suitable for children. Due to its oxalic acid content it really should be cooked before use (and the cooking water disposed of) and should be avoided by people suffering from kidney complaints, gout or rheumatism as it may exacerbate symptoms of these conditions.