Fat Hen; pesky weed or nutritious fare?

Chenopodium album L., or Fat Hen is a renowned agricultural weed throughout temperate regions (Aper et al., 2010), so somewhat unsurprisingly it has found its way onto Whiteknights campus!

Although farmers seek to eradicate this troublesome weed to reduce crop losses (Chludil et al., 2008; Aper et al., 2010), it is in fact an edible plant and its consumption can be traced back to Neolithic times (Grigson, 1974; Mitich, 1988). Indeed, it was shown to be the last meal of the exceptionally preserved ‘Tollund Man’ dating from the 1st Century BC (Grigson, 1974; Mitich, 1988). Furthermore, its leaves have been proven to contain antioxidants and the vitamins A and C leading Chludil et al. (2008) to classify it as a ‘nutraceutical’ (beneficial to health). However, excessive consumption is not recommended due to potential oxalic acid build up (Mitich, 1988).  Identification of the species can be problematic due to high morphological variability but key identification characteristics of the species usually present include ovate or triangular leaves often lobed/ toothed and mealy (Fig. 1), along with green partially fused tepals (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3) (Stace, 2010).

Overall, despite its gloomy reputation, the labelling of this pesky ‘weed’ may not entirely be fair!

(Photo source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Chenopodium_album)

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