Latin Name: Chenopodium album
Description: An annual plant, it grows to 1-2 m high and spreads to 1 m across. The stem is erect, succulent and without hairs and they often have soft mealy lumps which can be rubbed off. The leaves are simple, with one at each node, and occurring alternately up the stem. The leaves are oval and wedge shaped with saw like edges, 5-12 cm long by 3-10 cm wide. The leaf stalk is usually shorter than the leaf blade. The under surface of the leaf often has a white mealy layer which can be rubbed off. The flowers occur in dense white spikes and occur at the tip and ends of branches. The fruit is a pod, small, roundish and papery and it opens around the tip. The pod contains a shiny black seed 1.2-1.8 mm across. Seeds can occur in very large numbers.
Notes: In India, the plant is popularly called bathua and found abundantly in the winter season. The leaves and young shoots of this plant are used in dishes such as soups, curries, and paratha-stuffed breads, especially popular in Punjab. The seeds or grains are used in phambra or laafi, gruel-type dishes in Himachal Pradesh, and in mildly alcoholic fermented beverages such as soora and ghanti.
Edibility Rating out of 5: 3
Medicinal Rating out of 5: 2
Edible Uses: Young flowers are cooked and eaten.
The sprouted seeds are edible. Leaves – raw or cooked, a very acceptable spinach substitute, the taste is a little bland but this can be improved by adding a few stronger-flavoured leaves. One report says that, when eaten with beans, the leaves will act as a carminative to prevent wind and bloating. The leaves are best not eaten raw, see the notes below on toxicity. The leaves are generally very nutritious but very large quantities can disturb the nervous system and cause gastric pain. The leaves contain about 3.9% protein, 0.76% fat, 8.93% carbohydrate, 3% ash. Edible seed – dried and ground into a meal and eaten raw or baked into a bread. The seed can also be sprouted and added to salads. The seed is rather small but very easy to harvest and simple enough to utilize. The seed should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before being used in order to remove any saponins. The seed contains about 49% carbohydrate, 16% protein, 7% ash, 5.88% ash. Young inflorescences – cooked. A tasty broccoli substitute.
Warnings: The leaves and seeds of all members of this genus are more or less edible. However, many of the species in this genus contain saponins, though usually in quantities too small to do any harm. Although toxic, saponins are poorly absorbed by the body and most pass straight through without any problem. They are also broken down to a large extent in the cooking process. Saponins are found in many foods, such as some beans. The plants also contain some oxalic acid, which in large quantities can lock up some of the nutrients in the food, but these plants are very nutritious vegetables in reasonable quantities. Cooking the plant will reduce its content of oxalic acid. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition. A report says that if the plant is grown in soils that contain too much nitrates then the plant can concentrate these substances in the leaves.
Anthelmintic; Antiphlogistic; Antirheumatic; Contraceptive; Laxative; Odontalgic.
Medicinal Information: Fat hen is not employed in herbal medicine, though it does have some gentle medicinal properties and is a very nutritious and healthy addition to the diet. The leaves are anthelmintic, antiphlogistic, antirheumatic, mildly laxative, odontalgic. An infusion is taken in the treatment of rheumatism. The leaves are applied as a wash or poultice to bug bites, sunstroke, rheumatic joints and swollen feet, whilst a decoction is used for carious teeth. The seeds are chewed in the treatment of urinary problems and are considered useful for relieving the discharge of semen through the urine. The juice of the stems is applied to freckles and sunburn. The juice of the root is used in the treatment of bloody dysentery. Food that comprises 25.5% of the powdered herb may suppress the oestrus cycle.
A green dye is obtained from the young shoots. The crushed fresh roots are a mild soap substitute. The stalk of the mature plant is harvested and used as a strong and flexible walking stick.