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Sunday, August 21, 2011

FAT HEN - NOT JUST CHICKEN FEED: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF FAT HEN


FAT HEN, LAMB’S QUARTERS CHENOPODIUM ALBUM
Fat hen gets its name because it was used to fatten poultry; it goes by many other names too, notably lamb’s quarters in the US and pigweed in Canada, as it was used for pig and sheep’s food. In Britain it was known as Midden Myles and Dirty Dick (no, just the name!) because it likes to grow on manure heaps in farmyards. (Middens were the old name for toilets or the dung heaps where excrement was thrown.) It’s a native European plant and also grew in the America, but it is not yet conclusive whether or not it is a native of the USA or was introduced via Mexico. It does seem to have been domesticated first in Mexico and then in the US by the Native Americans. It has certainly been used as food in Europe since Neolithic (New Stone Age times) according to archaeological evidence.
  As a member of the Chenopodium – goosefoot-species it is related to both the stinking goosefoot and quinoa.
  In Pakistan it is used for liver complaints and as a mild laxative, as well as to get rid of intestinal worms, and in India it has been used in traditional medicine for skin irritation (the powder from dried leaves is dusted onto irritated skin) wile the leaf juice is used to treat burns. A decoction is made from the above ground parts of the plant and mixed with alcohol, then rubbed onto joints affected by arthritis and rheumatism.
  In other parts of the world the tisane is used as a skin wash for irritated skin, while the leaves are used in poultices to relieve painful insect bites, as well as for sunstroke, and for swollen feet and rheumatic joints. The seeds may be chewed to help with urinary problems and for preventing semen being discharged with urine. The root juices have been used to treat bloody dysentery and a decoction of the above ground parts has been used for cavities in teeth, to relieve pain.
  The plant has no odour, and the new leaves are recognizable as being toothed while older leaves which grow as the plant mature are toothless. It can grow to heights of 3 feet with a diameter of 8 inches, and can grow anywhere. If it is growing in soils that have been treated with pesticides, don’t use it, as they will have been absorbed into the plant. As it is, the plant contains oxalates, so the leaves should be cooked rather than eaten raw, for safety’s sake. You can cook it like spinach and it makes a good substitute. However plants which grow in nitrogen rich soil will contain nitrates, which are OK in small quantities, but don’t eat too many leaves, as although a small amount of nitrates can help the respiratory system, too many can be lethal. As the leaves are bland, it is best to mix them with stronger tasting ones such as fenugreek leaves (methi). The seeds may also be eaten although they are best soaked first as they contain saponins and can be used as a mild soap substitute. They can be dried and eaten or ground into flour or rather meal, and used to make bread.
  Anita Pal et al published a research paper in February 2011 in the International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences which shows that extracts of the plant are liver protective, vindicating its use for liver complaints in traditional medicine: “Hepaprotective Activity of Chenopodium Album Linn Plant against Paracetamol-induced Hepato injury in rats.” Another scientific study also published in 2011 by teams from the University of Southern Texas (USA) and University of Fort Hare South Africa, which showed that this plant has antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties. This study concludes that Fat Hen “should be used as a source of nutrients to support major sources [of food]” it goes on to say it “may be of great medicinal value.”
Young leaf
   Certainly it’s food for free and packed full of minerals, being especially rich in calcium and phosphorous and also containing potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, nitrogen and sodium. As for vitamins, it has the three main B-complex ones, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, as well as vitamin A. It has flavonoids and phenolic compounds responsible for its antioxidant properties it is thought.
  A good source of nutrition for free, as it is a weed!

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