Medical Herbs Catalogue



Family: N.O. Chenopodiaceae
Botanical Name: Chenopodium Bonus Henricus

Synonyms: English Mercury. Mercury Goosefoot. Allgood. Tola Bona. Smearwort. Fat Hen.
(German) Fette Henne.
Part Used: Herb.
Habitat: Good King Henry grows abundantly in waste places near villages, having formerly been cultivated as a garden pot-herb.

Description: It is a dark-green, succulent plant, about 2 feet, high, rising from a stout, fleshy, branching root-stock, with large, thickish, arrow-shaped leaves and tiny yellowish-green flowers in numerous close spikes, 1 to 2 inches long, both terminal and arising from the axils of the leaves. The fruit is bladder-like, containing a single seed.

The leaves used to be boiled in broth, but were principally gathered, when young and tender, and cooked as a pot-herb. In Lincolnshire, they are still eaten in place of spinach. Thirty years ago, this Goosefoot was regularly grown as a vegetable in Suffolk, Lincolnshire, and other eastern counties and was preferred to the Garden Spinach, its flavour being somewhat similar, but less pronounced. In common with several other closely allied plants, it was sometimes called 'Blite' (from the Greek, bliton, insipid), Evelyn says in his Acetaria, 'it is well-named being insipid enough.' Nevertheless, it is a very wholesome vegetable. If grown on rich soil, the young shoots, when as thick as a lead pencil, may be cut when 5 inches in height, peeled and boiled and eaten as Asparagus. They are gently laxative.

Cultivation: Good King Henry is well worth cultivating. Being a perennial, it will continue to produce for a number of years, being best grown on a deep loamy soil. The ground should be rich, well drained, and deeply dug. Plants should be put in about April, 1 foot apart each way, or seeds may be sown in drills at the same distance. During the first year, the plants should be allowed to establish themselves, but after that, both shoots and leaves may be cut or picked, always leaving enough to maintain the plant in health. Manure water is of great assistance in dry weather, or a dressing of 1 OZ. of nitrate of soda, or sulphate of ammonia may be given.

As with many of the wild plants, it does not always adapt itself to a change of soil when transplanted from its usual habitat and success is more often ensured when grown from seed.

Dodoens says the name Good King Henry, was given it to distinguish the plant from another, and poisonous one, called Malus Henricus ('Bad Henry'). The name Henricus in this case was stated by Grimm to refer to elves and kobolds ('Heinz' and 'Heinrich'), indicating magical powers of a malicious nature. The name has no connexion with our King Hal.

The plant is also known as Mercury Goosefoot, English Mercury and Marquery (to distinguish it from the French Mercury), because of its excellent remedial qualities in indigestion, hence the proverb: 'Be thou sick or whole, put Mercury in thy Koole.'

The name 'Smear-wort' refers to its use in ointment. Poultices made of the leaves were used to cleanse and heal chronic sores, which, Gerard states, 'they do scour and mundify.'

The roots were given to sheep as a remedy for cough and the seeds have found employment in the manufacture of shagreen.

The plant is said to have been used in Germany for fattening poultry and was called there Fette Henne, of which one of its popular names, Fat Hen, is the translation.

GOOSEFOOT, WHITE Botanical Name: Chenopodium album (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Chenopodiaceae
Synonyms: Frost Blite. Mutton Tops. Dirtweed. Lamb's Quarters. Dirty Dick. Midden Myles. Pigweed (Canada). Baconweed. Fat Hen.
Part Used: Herb.

The White Goosefoot (Chenopodium album, Linn.), so called from its mealy leaves, rejoices in old manure heaps, and if the manure is stacked up on a farm ready for use at a later season, it is soon overrun by this weed, which has thus gained the popular names of 'Midden Myles,' 'Dirtweed' and 'Dirty Dick.'

It shares with its near relative Good King Henry the names of Allgood and Fat Hen from its usefulness as a pot-herb and its reputed value in feeding poultry. 'Boil Myles in water and chop them in butter and you will have a good dish,' is an old English saying. It is a very wholesome medicine, as well as a pleasant vegetable, and an excellent substitute for spinach.

Description: The stem is erect, from 1 to 3 feet high, the leaves oval, wedge-shaped, with wavy teeth, the flowers in dense spikes. The mealiness is most apparent in the flowers and undersides of the leaves, but has not the objectionable odour of that of the Stinking Goosefoot.

This nutritious plant is grown as food for pigs and sheep in Canada, where it is called 'Pigweed.'

The young and tender plants are collected by the Indians of New Mexico and Arizona, and boiled as herbs, alone or with other food; large quantities also are eaten in the raw state. The seeds of this species are gathered by many tribes, ground into flour after drying and made into bread. The flour resembles that of Buckwheat in colour and taste and is regarded as equally nutritious. The small grey seeds are not unpleasant when eaten raw.

GOOSEFOOT, RED Botanical Name: Chenopodium rubrum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Chenopodiaceae

Synonyms: Sowbane. Pigweed.

The seeds of the Red Goosefoot (Chenopodium rubrum, Linn.) are a favourite food of birds and are also good for poultry. This species has a reddish stem, 1 to 3 feet high, usually upright, its leaves triangular to oval, with large blunt lobes and notches, but very variable in size and shape. It is very common about manure heaps. Its erect flowerspikes, intermixed with leaves, distantly resemble those of Dock.

Other Species:
The leaves of another Goosefoot, C. hybridum, are sometimes found as an adulterant of Stramonium leaves, when these are imported in a broken condition, but they can be detected by their small epidermal cells, with nearly straight walls, and hairs terminated by a large, bladdery, waterstoring cell.