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Chenopodiumsamily: N.O. Chenopodiaceae
Synonyms: Goosefoots. Wormseeds. Spinach. Glassworts. Sea Beets.
The Chenopodiaceae, or Goosefoot order, is a large family of homely and more or less succulent herbs-common weeds in most temperate climates, usually growing on the seashore and on salt marshes and on waste or cultivated ground.
The tribe derives its distinctive name from the Greek words, chen (a goose) and pous (a foot), in allusion to the supposed resemblance borne by the leaves of most of its members to the webbed feet of the goose. The leaves are entire, lobed or toothed, often more or less triangular in shape.
The minute flowers - which are wind fertilized - are without petals, bisexual and borne in dense axillary or terminal clusters or spikes. The small fruit is membraneous and one-seeded, often enclosed by the persistent calyx, which frequently is inflated.
Most of these plants contain large quantities of iron in the form of digestible organic compounds and many of the species provide soda in abundance.
Ten species of Chenopodium occur in Britain, one of which, C. Bonus-Henricus, has been much cultivated as a pot-herb, under the name of English Mercury and All Good. The Garden Orache and the Arrach, the Sea Beet and the Glassworts are other native plants belonging to this large family, which has about 600 members.
The seeds of C. Quinoa (Linn.), of the Andean region of South America, there constitute the staple and principal food of millions of the native inhabitants.
Quinoa is a perennial, indigenous to the high tableland of the Cordilleras, where, at the conquest by the Spaniards, it was the only farinaceous grain used as food. The plant is from 4 to 6 feet high and has many angular branches, dull glaucous leaves, of a triangular outline on long, narrow stalks, and flowers forming large, compact, branched heads and succeeded by minute, strong, flat seeds, of a black, white or red colour.
The Quinoa has been introduced into Europe, but though large crops have been grown in France, the grain has an unpleasant acrid taste and will hardly be used as human food when anything better can be got, though the leaves make a pleasant vegetable, like spinach.
But in Peru, Chile and Bolivia, Quinoa is largely cultivated for its nutritious seeds, which are produced in great abundance and are made into soup and bread, and when fermented with millet, make a kind of beer. They are called 'Little Rice.'
The seeds are prepared by boiling in water, like rice or oatmeal, a kind of gruel being the result, which is seasoned with Chile pepper and other condiments; or the grains are slightly roasted, like coffee, boiled in water and strained, the brown-coloured broth thus prepared being seasoned as in the first process. This second preparation is called Carapulque, and is said to be a favourite dish with the ladies of Lima, but, as already stated, in whatever way prepared, Quinoa is unpalatable to strangers, though it is probably a nutritious article of food, due to the amount of albumen it contains.
Two varieties are cultivated, one producing very pale seeds, called the White or Sweet variety, which is that used as food, and a dark-red fruited one, called the Red Quinoa. Both kinds contain an amaroid (or bitter substance), in specially large amounts in the bitter variety, which is reputed anthelmintic and emetic. By repeated washings, the substance is removed and the seeds can then be used as a food, like the 'sweet' variety.
A sweetened decoction of the fruit is used medicinally, as an application to sores and bruises, and cataplasms are also made from it.
The grain is said to be excellent for poultry and the plant itself to form good green food for cattle.