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Fat Hen

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer

A prolific member of the Amaranthaceae family a crop like quinoa can be obtained by those with time on their hands.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Fat Hen, Lambs Quarters, White Goosefoot
Scientific Name Chenopodium album
Season Start Apr
Season End Oct
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.

Leaves

Oval to triangular with slightly wavy toothed edges. Blue green on top and sometimes with a hint of red flushing underneath, the leaves also have a silvery sheen or bloom that on close inspection is made up of microscopic, wax like crystals that repel water, this is a good ID for Fat Hen. The leaves become thinner and more angular on the rising flower stem.

Flowers

Spirals of white/green tiny flowers on spikes originating from the leaf base and stem junction appear between June and October.

Habitat

Waste ground, recently disturbed ground, hedgerows, roadsides, around cultivated land and gardens.

Possible Confusion

Other Chenopodiums like Good King Henry, Chenopodium bonus-henricus and Goosefoot, Chenopodium rubrum or a little like Orache, Atriplex prostrata but these are all edible and taste somewhat similar.

Taste

A bit cabbage like.

Frequency

Common, especially around arable fields.

Collecting

The largest stands of Fat Hen can be found around farmers field edges so it is important to check with the farmer that it hasn’t been sprayed with any harmful pesticides, fungisides etc. The leaves can be used fresh in salads or cooked like spinach, they have a cabbage like taste of their own.

The unopened flower buds are just like elongated broccoli and can be treated as such.

The seeds are edible and like quinoa, a closely  related plant but the seeds need the thin outer coating removed if possible as it contains saponins which can be quite bitter.

The flowers are edible and always make a salad look better.

Medicinal Uses

Fat Hen is very high in vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus and is a good source of protein, trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C,  iron, and fibre.

The leaves have been used as a poultice to soothe burns.

Other Facts

The seeds of Fat Hen were discovered to be Tollund Mans last meal, he was found in a Danish bog and dated from 400Bc.
Before spinach was introduced to the UK it was commonly used as a green to go with meats.

The seeds of this plant are very like Quinoa which come from a close relative that grows in South America, Chenopodium quinoa.

Fat Hen was used as a fodder crop but when raw is quite high in nitrates and oxalic acid and should not be eaten in large quantities.

COMMENTS

12 comments for Fat Hen

  1. Amanda Miles says:

    Hi… I’m looking for fat hen seeds or plants as mine seems to have disappeared! Any suggestions please?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Amanda, it should be in seed now (September) and can be found round the edges of most farmers fields.

  2. Deborah Clark says:

    It would be useful to know if it is annual, bi or peren!

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Deborah, Fat Hen is an Annual and usually appears in about April and lasts until October.

      1. Deborah Clark says:

        Late, I know but THANK YOU 🙂 I have seed but haven’t got round to sowing/planting as I want to cultivate for a potassium feed for plants (like comfrey but better). Knowing it’s life cycle helps me stopping it becoming a weed! Thank you again.

        1. Chris Biggin says:

          I’m interested in the fact that it’s able to be used as a plant feed. Any more information?

          1. Eric Biggane says:

            To use as a plant feed just leave roughly chopped fat hen, nettles or comfrey or all three in a bucket of water for two weeks which will end up rather smelly but is a great fertilizer.

  3. R Morrison says:

    I have a few of these growing in my greenhouse. They started growing in the greenhouse soil and I thought they were seedlings from old tomatoes from last year and so I nurtured them into pots. Obviously they are not tomatoes but where did they come from.

  4. Lisa says:

    I’ve had a lot of fat hen seedlings this year, which must have been in the organic compost I bought. If yours have appeared out of the blue, that may be where they came from. I’m nurturing the rogue seedlings alongside my veggies, and I’ll use them as I would spinach.

  5. Dean Carline says:

    I nurtured one plant I found growing on an allotment free manure heap. I kept the seeds and others fell on my garden. They came up in spring in great numbers. Also on other parts of my garden so I think more came from farm manure I had spread. I’ve cooked a little and it smells just like spinach. Same make up I suppose.

  6. Howard mapp says:

    Can fat hen be used for forage for cattle as in preserved silage

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Fat Hen is high in nitrates and oxalic acid and should not be eaten raw in large quantities so I would be wary of using it as a fodder crop for cattle.

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