I went out for a forage today, something I love doing on Sundays when I have more time to wander along slowly.
Growing abundantly in a field close to my house was one of my favourite plants: Fat Hen. The latin name for this plant is Chenopodium album.
It has many, many local names such as: Meldweed, Dungweed, Wild Spinach, Lamb’s Quarters, Pigweed, Muckweed, Dirty John, All Good, Dirty Dick, Bacon Weed, Frost-blite, Goosefoot, Meal-weed, White Goosefoot, White Goose.
Someone told me that the more local / folklore names there are for a plant, the longer our history with that plant is. Common names can also often give a clue to what the plant has been used for in the past. No idea why this one is sometimes called Dirty John and Dirty Dick!
It is a summer plant found on disturbed and cultivated areas such as arable fields, vegetable gardens / allotments and manure heaps. Fat hen was famously found in the stomach contents of the Iron Age ‘Tollund Man’ a bog body dating from this period found in Tollund in Denmark.
Tollund Man: “At the autopsy, approximately ¼ liter of stomach content was found. The majority was found in his colon, and this suggests that he ate his last meal 12-24 hours prior to his death. Botanist Hans Helbæk, who concluded that the meal had consisted of seeds from no fewer than 29 different plants, analyzed the stomach content.
Main component was hulled and pearled barley, supplemented by linseed and oats, followed by seeds from a variety of plants, which we today would call weeds. Some of the weed seeds were present in an amount that reveals they must have been gathered on purpose. This goes for knotweed, fat hen, spurrey, gold-of-pleasure, field pansy and common hemp–nettle. Other weed seeds must have been randomly harvested along with the crops thereby ending up in the meal. No traces of meat or fresh vegetables were found in the meal.”
Rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C, its leaves are more nutritious than spinach and cabbage. It can be substituted wherever you would normally use spinach. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads, chopped into stews, or added to a wild green soup.
Some delicious recipes using Fat Hen:
Fat Hen Pasta Bake from Eat Weeds
Fat Hen Frittata on common mallow with sorrel mayo from Appetite Mag
Creamy Lamb’s-Quarters (Fat Hen) Gratin from Epicurious
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