Herb To Know: Good-King-Henry


| February/March 1994





Chenopodium bonus-henricus
• Family Chenopodiaceae
• Hardy perennial

Today, grocery stores throughout North America offer fresh produce all year round. Even where the selection is limited to cardboard carrots and limp, brown-tinged iceberg lettuce, the frozen food case holds a variety of nourishing vegetables. Still, as winter drags on, it’s only natural to develop a craving for something really fresh, perhaps as proof that spring is on the way at last. What a joy it is when the first tentative shoots of edible plants begin to prick through the soil. Spring greens are an ancient tradition that is well worth keeping alive, and Good-King-Henry (Cheno­pod­­­ium bonus-henricus) is an easy-to-grow herb rich in iron and vitamin C that blends well with such better-known potherbs as dandelions, nettles, and sorrel.

Good-King-Henry Recipe:  Mixed Spring Greens 

Good-King-Henry is native to Europe and was brought to North America by the early European colonists as a potherb. It now grows wild here and there in the northeastern United States and Canada.

Think of Good-King-Henry as a sort of perennial spinach, to which it is related; other chenopodiums include lamb’s-quarters (C. album), epazote (C. ambrosioides), and quinoa (C. quinoa). Stems up to 2 feet tall bear dark green, succulent, arrow-shaped leaves with smooth or wavy edges and a mealy undersurface. Spikes of tiny greenish flowers appear from May through September. In early spring, pencil-thick shoots push up from the fleshy, branching roots, and these are prized, especially in England, as a substitute for asparagus.

Good-King-Henry grows best in fertile, well-drained garden soil. It’s one of the few herbs that prefer partial shade. Buying a plant or two is an easy way to get started with this herb. Seeds are available but may be slow to germinate (established plants self-sow fairly readily, however). Stratifying the seeds (chilling them in a moist medium such as vermiculite) for a few weeks improves germination. Thin or transplant seedlings to 1 to 2 feet apart. Fertilize the plants occasionally during the growing season. Harvest leaves lightly and shoots not at all until plants are three years old. If you mulch the plants heavily in late fall with compost or leaf mold, the shoots will be white and especially tender. The leaves are most tender in spring, too. Established plants can be divided in early spring.





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