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Botanical Name: Chenopodium Bonus Henricus
Species: B. bonus-henricus
Common Names: Good-King-Henry, Poor-man’s Asparagus, Perennial Goosefoot, Lincolnshire Spinach, Markery, English mercury, or mercury goosefoot
Part Used: Herb.
Part of plant consumed: Leaves and young stems.
Habitat: Good King Henry grows abundantly in waste places near villages, having formerly been cultivated as a garden pot-herb.Lincolnshire Spinach is a species of goosefoot which is native to much of central and southern Europe.
Description:Good King Henry is an annual or perennial plant growing up to 400–800 mm tall. The leaves are 50–100 mm long and broad, triangular to diamond-shaped, with a pair of broad pointed lobes near the base, with a slightly waxy, succulent texture. The flowers are produced in a tall, nearly leafless spike 100–300 mm long; each flower is very small (3–5 mm diameter), green, with five sepals. The seeds are reddish-green, 2–3 mm diameter.
It is a dark-green, succulent plant, about 2 feet, high, rising from a stout, fleshy, branching root-stock, with large, thickish, arrow-shaped leaves and tiny yellowish-green flowers in numerous close spikes, 1 to 2 inches long, both terminal and arising from the axils of the leaves. The fruit is bladder-like, containing a single seed.
The leaves used to be boiled in broth, but were principally gathered, when young and tender, and cooked as a pot-herb. In Lincolnshire, they are still eaten in place of spinach. Thirty years ago, this Goosefoot was regularly grown as a vegetable in Suffolk, Lincolnshire, and other eastern counties and was preferred to the Garden Spinach, its flavour being somewhat similar, but less pronounced. In common with several other closely allied plants, it was sometimes called ‘Blite’ (from the Greek, bliton, insipid), Evelyn says in his Acetaria, ‘it is well-named being insipid enough.’ Nevertheless, it is a very wholesome vegetable. If grown on rich soil, the young shoots, when as thick as a lead pencil, may be cut when 5 inches in height, peeled and boiled and eaten as Asparagus. They are gently laxative.
Cultivation: Good King Henry is well worth cultivating. Being a perennial, it will continue to produce for a number of years, being best grown on a deep loamy soil. The ground should be rich, well drained, and deeply dug. Plants should be put in about April, 1 foot apart each way, or seeds may be sown in drills at the same distance. During the first year, the plants should be allowed to establish themselves, but after that, both shoots and leaves may be cut or picked, always leaving enough to maintain the plant in health. Manure water is of great assistance in dry weather, or a dressing of 1 OZ. of nitrate of soda, or sulphate of ammonia may be given.
Good King Henry has been grown as a vegetable in cottage gardens for hundreds of years, although this dual-purpose vegetable is now rarely grown and the species is more often considered a weed.
It should be planted in a fertile, sunny spot which is free from perennial weeds. Seeds should be sown in April in drills 1 cm deep and 50 cm apart. The seedlings should then be thinned to 10â€“20 cm. Good King Henry does not respond well to transplantation.
Typically, very little is produced in the first season. The plants should be regularly weeded and well watered. Harvesting should be moderate, with just a few leaves at a time collected from each plant.
The foliage can be cut in autumn, and a mulch, such as leaf mould or well-rotted compost applied to the plot. Cropping can begin in spring. Some of the new shoots can be cut as they appear (usually from mid spring to early summer) and cooked like asparagus. All cutting should then cease so that shoots are allowed to develop. The succulent triangular leaves are picked a few at a time until the end of August and cooked like spinach.
As with many of the wild plants, it does not always adapt itself to a change of soil when transplanted from its usual habitat and success is more often ensured when grown from seed.
Detersive and diuretic, the herb ought to have a place in vulnerary decoctions and fomentations. The young shoots, the succeeding leaves and the flowery tops are fit for kitchen purposes. It is good for scurvy and provokes urine. Outwardly it is much used in clysters, and a cataplasm of the leaves helps the pain of the gout.
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.’
The name ‘Smear-wort’ refers to its use in ointment. Poultices made of the leaves were used to cleanse and heal chronic sores, which, Gerard states, ‘they do scour and mundify.’
The leaf is a source of iron, vitamins and minerals. A poultice and ointment cleanses and heals skin sores. Also in the preparation of an ointment for painful joints. The plant was recommended for indigestion and as a laxative and a diuretic. Used in a veterinary cough remedy for sheep. Rich in iron as well as vitamin C.
Modern uses: The leaves can be used externally in compresses to soothe aching and painful joints, but it is not considered to be of much value internally. Its main use has always been as a vegetable to be used as an alternative to Spinach.
The roots were given to sheep as a remedy for cough and the seeds have found employment in the manufacture of shagreen.
The plant is said to have been used in Germany for fattening poultry and was called there Fette Henne, of which one of its popular names, Fat Hen, is the translation.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider