Chenopodium Bonus Henricus-Good King Henry
Other names: C. esculentus, English Mercury, Mercury Goosefoot, Allgood, Tola Bona, Smearwort, Fat Hen
This herb contains high levels of Saponins and also oxalic acid which is reduced by cooking. 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.
Good King Henry was once widely cultivated in the the British isles as a pot herb. It is used in much the same way as spinach. It was widely employed as a medicinal herb for gently regulating the bowel and it is now used for this purpose especially in children. the fresh plant contains high levels of saponins which are greatly reduced when cooked.
Habitat: Most of Europe, including Britain, north to Scandanavia, W. Asia, N. America. Rich pastures, farmyards, roadsides etc.
Description of Good King Henry:
Chenopodium bonus-henricus; Good King Henry is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in).
It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to July, and the seeds ripen from Jun to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils.Needs full sun. It prefers moist soil.
Cultivation of Good King Henry:
Prefers a fertile humus rich soil in a sunny position. The plant produces a better quality harvest in the summer if it is grown in light shade. A very easily grown plant, it tolerates considerable neglect and succeeds in most soils and situations. Good King Henry was at one time frequently cultivated in the garden as a perennial vegetable, but it has fallen out of favour and is seldom grown at present. About thirty plants can produce a good supply of food for four people.
Propagation of Good King Henry:
Seed – sow spring in a cold frame. Germination can be slow, but usually a high percentage will germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant out into their permanent positions in the summer. Division in spring. Very easy, larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the summer or following spring.
Culinary uses of Good King Henry:
Edible Parts: Flowers, Leaves, Seed.
Young leaves – raw or cooked. The leaves wilt quickly after picking and so they need to be used as soon after harvesting as possible. They can be used as a potherb. The leaves are best in spring and early summer, the older leaves become tough and bitter. The raw leaves should only be eaten in small quantities, see the notes above on toxicity. Young leaves can be chopped and used as a small part of mixed salads, though many are not enamoured by their flavour. The cooked leaves make an acceptable spinach substitute, but are best mixed with nicer leaves. The leaves are a good source of iron. Young flowering shoots – cooked. When grown on good soil, the shoots can be as thick as a pencil. When about 12cm long, they are cut just under the ground, peeled and used like asparagus. A very pleasant spring vegetable. The plant is sometimes blanched by excluding the light in order to produce a longer and more succulent shoot, though this practice also reduces the quantity of vitamins in the shots. Young flower buds – cooked. Considered to be a gourmet food, though they are rather small and harvesting any quantity takes quite a while. Seed – ground and mixed with flour then used in making bread etc. The seed is small and fiddly but is easily harvested. It should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins. When growing for food it is best to leave the Good King Henry Plant for the first year to establish before cropping heavily.
Emollient, Laxative, Vermifuge
This member of the the Goosefoot family was once widely used as a medicinal herb in the UK. The herb is emollient, laxative and vermifuge. The plant is also known as Mercury Goosefoot, English Mercury and Marquery (to distinguish it from the French Mercury), because of its excellent remedial qualities in indigestion, hence the proverb: ‘Be thou sick or whole, put Mercury in thy Koole.’ This remedy should not be used by people suffering from kidney complaints or rheumatism. A poultice of the leaves has been used to cleanse and heal chronic sores, boils and abscesses. The seed is a gentle laxative that is suitable for children. 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.
Other uses of Good King Henry:
Gold/green dyes can be obtained from the whole plant.
Esoteric uses of Good King Henry:
None known but if you use this herb for any purpose please let us know!
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. 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. Herb is rich in iron.