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Saturday, December 10, 2011

GOOD KING HENRY - A MEMBER OF THE GOOSEFOOT GENUS: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF GOOD KING HENRY


GOOD KING HENRY, CHENOPODIUM BONUS-HENRICUS
Good King Henry is a member of the Chenopodiaceae family of goosefoots, and is related to stinking goosefoot, fat hen (Chenopodium album) quinoa and also spinach. Clearly the Latin name for the plant does not mention “King” – it is only ‘good Henry” which means that it is not named after Prince Hal, or Henry VIII or even Henri IV of France who promised every peasant a chicken or a fat hen in his pot. It is also sometimes called fat hen, but this name more properly belongs to C. album white goosefoot or lamb’s quarters. It is more likely to be called good Henry to distinguish it from Bad Henry (Böser Heinrich in German) who was a malevolent spirit described by the Brothers Grimm. It is also the name given to Mercurialis perennis, generally known as Dog's Mercury. This Good Henry is sometimes called English Mercury, to distinguish it from the French herb, Mercurialis annua or French Mercury, which is a member of the spurge family of plants but whose medicinal actions are similar to Good King Henry. The Good Henry of German folklore performed household and other domestic chores in return for a saucer of cream. Bad Henry, of course, would turn milk sour like Puck or Robin Goodfellow in English folklore.
  Until the end of the 19th century and even in the early years of the twentieth century, Good King Henry was grown as a spring vegetable and the tender young leaves were a spinach substitute, as some people prefer its milder flavour. It was known as Lincoln asparagus as it was grown there as an alternative to asparagus with the young shoots being peeled and then steamed like asparagus can be. It was also grown as a vegetable in other part of Britain including in Suffolk. The young flower buds are regarded as a gourmet food item when they are steamed, but they are fiddly to harvest. Later in the season, in summer the older leaves are bitter so it is best to harvest this herb in spring and chop the leaves and mix them with Swiss chard or kale, sorrel and spinach for a green mixed vegetable dish. They also make a good flavouring herb for soups and stews as do dandelion and nettle leaves.
  The leaves are mildly diuretic and the seeds have gentle laxative properties making them a good remedy for children who are constipated. The leaves are rich in vitamin C and the minerals calcium and iron.
  The herb has been used traditionally to relieve indigestion and the leaves made into a poultice have been placed on chronic sores to heal them. The herb is native to Europe, including Britain, and was introduced to North America by the early settlers who used it as a pot herb.
  Gold or green dyes may be obtained from the whole plant, and at one time the roots were fed to sheep that had coughs. The seeds were used in preparing an untanned leather with a rough grainy surface, known as shagreen, so it has had many uses in the past, although it is little used these days.
  

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