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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7 Responses to Fat Hen; pesky weed or nutritious fare?

  1. Mike Loose says:

    This plant is very palatable and I have been eating it as a spinach alternative for many years.

  2. pehatcher says:

    I agree, it can be very pleasant, although prone to being rather bitter, like some of its relatives. I’ve never found enough of it at any one time to do much more than add it to salads or as a sag subsitute in Indian cooking. A little book by Vivien Weise (Cooking Weeds, Prospect Books, Totnes, 2004) gives a couple of fat hen recipes ‘Fat hen gazpacho’ and ‘Fat hen cream sauce with potatoes’: neither fills me with much enthusiasm to try them, however. I think the real test of fat hen would be whether it makes a good eggs Florentine or not.

  3. Geoff Toone says:

    Hi,
    you might be interested to hear that whilst wandering about in the campus on Sept 17th last year I came across three other Chenopodiums on a newly dug mound between the building work enclosure and the lake. They were C. polyspermum, rubrum and strictum, the latter recently confirmed by Eric Clement. Sorry, but I have no idea about their culinary potential though!

    • David says:

      It’s a little late, but I don’t suppose you kept a specimen of C. strictum, did you? It’s a good record for campus. Last year I saw some plants in the place you describe that I thought were odd C. album but which may have been C. strictum.

  4. Gillian says:

    Does anyone know of any problems of horses eating Fathen??

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