Herb: Fat Hen


Latin name: Chenopodium album


Synonyms: Chenopodium reticulatum


Family: Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family)



Medicinal use of Fat Hen:

Fat hen is not employed in herbal medicine, though it does have some gentle medicinal properties and is a very nutritious and healthy addition to the diet. The leaves are anthelmintic, antiphlogistic, antirheumatic, mildly laxative, odontalgic. An infusion is taken in the treatment of rheumatism. The leaves are applied as a wash or poultice to bug bites, sunstroke, rheumatic joints and swollen feet, whilst a decoction is used for carious teeth. The seeds are chewed in the treatment of urinary problems and are considered useful for relieving the discharge of semen through the urine. The juice of the stems is applied to freckles and sunburn. The juice of the root is used in the treatment of bloody dysentery. Food that comprises 25.5% of the powdered herb may suppress the oestrus cycle.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Annual


Height:
90 cm
(2 feet)

Flovering:
July to
October

Habitat of the herb:

A common weed of cultivated ground, especially on rich soils and old manure heaps. It is often one of the first weeds to appear on newly cultivated soils.

Edible parts of Fat Hen:

Leaves - raw or cooked. A very acceptable spinach substitute, the taste is a little bland but this can be improved by adding a few stronger-flavoured leaves. One report says that, when eaten with beans, the leaves will act as a carminative to prevent wind and bloating. The leaves are best not eaten raw, see the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are generally very nutritious but very large quantities can disturb the nervous system and cause gastric pain. The leaves contain about 3.9% protein, 0.76% fat, 8.93% carbohydrate, 3% ash. A zero moisture basis analysis is also available. Edible seed - dried and ground into a meal and eaten raw or baked into a bread. The seed can also be sprouted and added to salads. The seed is very fiddly to harvest and use due to its small size. Although it is rather small, we have found the seed very easy to harvest and simple enough to utilize. The seed should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before being used in order to remove any saponins. The seed contains about 49% carbohydrate, 16% protein, 7% ash, 5.88% ash. Young inflorescences - cooked. A tasty broccoli substitute.

Other uses of the herb:

A green dye is obtained from the young shoots. The crushed fresh roots are a mild soap substitute.

Propagation of Fat Hen:

Seed - sow spring in situ. Most of the seed usually germinates within a few days of sowing. It is usually unnecessary to sow the seed since the plant is a common garden weed and usually self-sows freely in most soils.

Cultivation of the herb:

A common weed of cultivated ground, especially on rich soils and old manure heaps. It is often one of the first weeds to appear on newly cultivated soils.

Known hazards of Chenopodium album:

The leaves and seeds of all members of this genus are more or less edible. However, many of the species in this genus contain saponins, though usually in quantities too small to do any harm. Although toxic, saponins are poorly absorbed by the body and most pass straight through without any problem. They are also broken down to a large extent in the cooking process. Saponins are found in many foods, such as some beans. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish. The plants also contain some oxalic acid, which in large quantities can lock up some of the nutrients in the food, but these plants are very nutritious vegetables in reasonable quantities. Cooking the plant will reduce its content of oxalic acid. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition. There is also a report that very large quantities of the leaves have caused photosensitivity in some people. Only the raw leaves can cause problems, and then only if large quantities are consumed. A further report says that if the plant is grown in soils that contain too much nitrates then the plant can concentrate these substances in the leaves. Nitrates have been shown to cause many health problems including stomach cancers and blue-baby syndrome. In nitrogen-rich soils, the plants can also concentrate hydrogen cyanide. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.