Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus), also called Poor-man’s Asparagus, is most easily described as a perennial spinach.
It has been grown as a vegetable in cottage gardens for hundreds of years, although today it’s been largely forgotten as an edible plant and is more often considered a weed.
Where It Grows
Good King Henry is native to much of central and southern Europe and is hardy to -20 C (zone 5 in the UK and USDA zones 3-9). It can produce well even in shade, making it an excellent addition to an edible forest garden.
Why We Like It
- The leaves make a good spinach when cooked. Cooking destroys the oxalic acid in the raw leaves, although for younger leaves it’s enough to steam them for a few minutes.
- The young shoots can be harvested until early summer and eaten just like asparagus. From Plants for a Future: “When grown on good soil, the shoots can be as thick as a pencil. When about 12cm long, they are cut just under the ground, peeled and used like asparagus”
- The flower buds are considered to be a gourmet food and are cooked and eaten like broccoli, though the harvesting takes some effort because of the small size.
- The seeds can be ground and mixed with flour when making bread. It’s easily harvested, but as Plants for a Future says “it should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins”.
- The plant is known to have been used medicinally as a mild laxative and vermifuge. A poultice of the leaves has been used to cleanse and heal chronic sores, boils and abscesses.
- It makes a decent ground cover plant, planting it in 30cm spacings.
- Gold and green dyes can be obtained from the plant.
Where To Get It
Agroforestry Research Trust (seedlings / seeds)
The Organic Gardening Catalogue (seeds)
Plants for a Future
Temperate Climate Permaculture
Cover photo: Enrico Blasutto, CC BY-SA