Herb: Quinoa

Latin name: Chenopodium quinoa

Family: Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family)

Edible parts of Quinoa:

Seed - cooked. A pleasant mild flavour, the seed can absorb the flavour of other foods that are cooked with it and so it can be used in a wide variety of ways. It should be thoroughly soaked and rinsed to remove a coating of saponins on the seed surface. The seed can be used in all the ways that rice is used, as a savoury or sweet dish. It can also be ground into a powder and used as a porridge. The seed can also be sprouted and used in salads though many people find the sprouted seed unpleasant. The seed contains a very high quality protein that is rich in the amino acids lysine, methionine and cystine, it has the same biological value as milk. The seed contains about 38% carbohydrate, 19% protein, 5% fat, 5% sugar. Leaves - raw or cooked. The young leaves are cooked like spinach. It is best not to eat large quantities of the raw leaves, see the notes above on toxicity.

Description of the plant:


150 cm
(5 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

The original habitat is obscure, the plant probably arose through cultivation.

Other uses of Quinoa:

Gold/green dyes can be obtained from the whole plant. Saponins on the seed can be used as a bird and insect deterrent by spraying them on growing plants. The saponins are obtained by saving the soak-water used when preparing the seed for eating. The spray remains effective for a few weeks or until washed off by rain.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow April in situ. The seed can either be sown broadcast or in rows about 25cm apart, thinning the plants to about every 10cm. Germination is rapid, even in fairly dry conditions. Be careful not to weed out the seedlings because they look very similar to some common garden weeds.

Cultivation of Quinoa:

The original habitat is obscure, the plant probably arose through cultivation.

Medicinal use of the herb:

None known

Known hazards of Chenopodium quinoa:

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. However, even considering this, they are very nutritious vegetables in reasonable quantities. Cooking the plants will reduce their 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.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.