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Chenopodium bonus-henricus - L.                
Common Name Good King Henry
Family Chenopodiaceae
Synonyms C. esculentus.
Known Hazards 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[K]. 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[238].
Habitats Rich pastures, farmyards, roadsides etc[17].
Range Most of Europe, including Britain, north to Scandanavia, W. Asia, N. America.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Chenopodium bonus-henricus is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 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.

USDA hardiness zone : 4-8

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

Chenopodium bonus-henricus Good King Henry
Chenopodium bonus-henricus Good King Henry Chenopodium botrys
Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Flowers;  Leaves;  Seed.
Edible Uses:

Young leaves - raw or cooked[2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 33]. The leaves wilt quickly after picking and so they need to be used as soon after harvesting as possible[264]. They can be used as a potherb[4]. The leaves are best in spring and early summer, the older leaves become tough and bitter[200]. 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 we are not enamoured by their flavour[K]. The cooked leaves make an acceptable spinach substitute, but are best mixed with nicer leaves[K]. The leaves are a good source of iron[244]. Young flowering shoots - cooked[2, 27, 132, 264]. When grown on good soil, the shoots can be as thick as a pencil[4]. When about 12cm long, they are cut just under the ground, peeled and used like asparagus[183]. A very pleasant spring vegetable[K]. 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[264, K]. Young flower buds - cooked[33, 183]. Considered to be a gourmet food[183], though they are rather small and harvesting any quantity takes quite a while[K]. Seed - ground and mixed with flour then used in making bread etc. The seed is small and fiddly but is easily harvested[K]. It should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins[K].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Emollient;  Laxative;  Vermifuge.

The herb is emollient, laxative and vermifuge[7, 154]. This remedy should not be used by people suffering from kidney complaints or rheumatism[7]. A poultice of the leaves has been used to cleanse and heal chronic sores, boils and abscesses[4, 7]. The seed is a gentle laxative that is suitable for children[7].
Other Uses

Gold/green dyes can be obtained from the whole plant[168].
Cultivation details                                         
Prefers a fertile humus rich soil in a sunny position[9, 16, 200]. The plant produces a better quality harvest in the summer if it is grown in light shade[264, K]. A very easily grown plant, it tolerates considerable neglect and succeeds in most soils and situations[16, 33, K]. 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[4, 46]. About thirty plants can produce a good supply of food for four people[264].
Seed - sow spring in a cold frame. Germination can be slow, but usually a high percentage will germinate[K]. 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[200]. 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.
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[5]Mabey. R. Food for Free.
Edible wild plants found in Britain. Fairly comprehensive, very few pictures and rather optimistic on the desirability of some of the plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[9]Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.
[12]Loewenfeld. C. and Back. P. Britain's Wild Larder.
A handy pocket guide.
[16]Simons. New Vegetable Growers Handbook.
A good guide to growing vegetables in temperate areas, not entirely organic.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[27]Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden.
A reprint of a nineteenth century classic, giving details of vegetable varieties. Not really that informative though.
[33]Organ. J. Rare Vegetables for Garden and Table.
Unusual vegetables that can be grown outdoors in Britain. A good guide.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[132]Bianchini. F., Corbetta. F. and Pistoia. M. Fruits of the Earth.
Lovely pictures, a very readable book.
[154]Ewart. A. J. Flora of Victoria.
A flora of eastern Australia, it is rather short on information that is useful to the plant project.
[168]Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants.
A very good and readable book on dyeing.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[244]Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs
Deals with all types of herbs including medicinal, culinary, scented and dye plants. Excellent photographs with quite good information on each plant.
[264]Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Vegetables
Excellent and easily read book with good information and an excellent collection of photos of vegetables from around the world, including many unusual species.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Mon Oct 16 2006
Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe, has recently written a couple of books about the explorer Pytheas "the Greek", who travelled to Britain and Northern Europe in pre-Roman times. His book "On the Sea" seems to be one of a very few written source about Britain in ancient times. According to Cunliffe Pytheas wrote that the staple diet of the inhabitants of Britain was millet. Cunliffe goes on to say that archaeologists have identified Chenopodium seeds in British excavations. So it seems that Fat Hen (or Good King Henry) was the basis of the British diet in ancient times. Would it be possible to to date the domestication and development of Good King Henry from Fat Hen from back to the Bronze Age? And, how would the plant have been cooked? Could we reconstruct a Bronze age meal?
Elizabeth H.
ali gaafar Fri Nov 30 2007
Iam intersteng in cytogenetic studied in the genus chenopodium lso can you please send me of seeds of this genus
Elizabeth H.
Pierre RICHARD Tue Oct 6 2009
Why "good king Henry"? Which king is it related to? We, french people, like our HenriIV so much that we celebrated him thanks to his support for botanics...sounds too simp;e to be true!
Elizabeth H.
david Fri Oct 23 2009
The name has an interesting history, it had to be distinguished from a similar toxic plant called "Boser Heinrich" (Bad Henry) in Germany, the "king" was added later in England,(info from Oxford Companion to Food) it does not seem to be named after any real person.
Jaap U.
Dec 22 2013 12:00AM
I want to share some of my experiences and observations on the sowing of good king Henry (Chenopodium bonus henricus ) Twice I sowed it in my vegetable garden and never did I see any seedling. I heard from a friend she had the same problem too. So after these disappointing efforts to sow Good King Henry I decided to take on a different approach. I bought new seeds which I put to germinate on a wet tissue in a plastic box. This was about February 2012. This way it was more easy to spot any germinating seed. And over a period of several months some germinated. But germination percentage was very low. Every time a seed started to germinate I transplanted it to a small pot with wet turf. I used a pincer and magnifying glass. Over a few weeks I got some seedlings. I did not cover the germinating seeds with soil, just made a little hole and dropped the seed in. The seedlings in their pots I put in a milkwhite plastic box which helped to protect them. This I kept in a cool greenhouse (about 8°-13° C). Take care with ventilation to avoid moulding or overheating when sunny. Give shade if necessary and transplant to garden when possible. So finally I had about 20 plants in my garden. Above ground not big, but with a very impressive rootsystem I discovered later. But more important, they did flower and set seeds in their first year. This seeds I have sown in the same way as described above. Now I got a germination rate of about 95 percent. And it also germinated more rapidly. Seed appears to loose viability very rapidly. The remainder of the older seeds did I also sow, but without any results. I have read suggestions about scarifying the seed with a cold treatment. I tried it but with no result. Now I know what my problem was, next time I will sow directly in small sized pots.
Paulo B.
Apr 11 2014 12:00AM
I have a method that works 100%. Just sown surface (seed needs light) in sterile potting mix, and left it outside in freezing/chilly weather for at least a month. Then I bring indoors and it germinated readily. Then, the seedling either needs sunlight or a strong growing light, otherwise it will eventually get weak and die. This method always works for me. How about eating? Any recommendations on its processing and frequency and amount that you can eat?
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