Wednesday, February 26, 2014


My fondness for lamb’s quarters, Chenopodium album, is no secret. I frequently mention this edible “weed” in seminars, columns, blog posts and guidebooks. But there is another member of this same family that long ago piqued my interest and yet, I have yet to locate even a single specimen. It appears that that has changed.

The order Chenopodeae has several members, one of which is the goosefoot group. The leaves of these plants generally resemble a goose’s foot, thus Chen, or chenos, from the Greek word for goose, and pous, which means “foot.”

Some, but not all members of the goosefoot group occur naturally on both sides of the Atlantic. Lamb’s quarters, probably our most common example, is an alien plant, that is, it came here from Europe. Likewise, the plant at the center of this discussion, Good-King-Henry (GKH), is another European introduction.

My knowledge of GKH is limited to a page in a Reader’s Digest publication, Magic and Medicine of Plants. The text explains that the name came not, as we might think, from England’s King Henry VIII, but from a Germanic goblin that was known to help with housework, as long as the housekeeper kept it supplied with a daily saucer of cream.

A charming story, perhaps, but that wasn't what garnered my interest. Instead, the plant’s culinary qualities drew my attention. The leaves were known as a spinach substitute (lamb’s quarters, too, are not only a fine substitute for spinach, it has largely replaced that garden vegetable in my diet) and the shoots an ersatz “asparagus.” Reader’s Digest goes on to say that the plant is rich in iron and vitamin C and serves to prevent anemia. That much we might well infer from any leafy, dark green plant.

The leaves are said to reach 6 inches in length, far larger than lamb’s quarters. The plant grows to 12 inches, according to Reader’s Digest.

But since reading about Good-King-Henry back in 1988, I had not seen another reference to it until several years ago, when I was given a signed copy of Flowering Plants of Great Britain, 1870. Here, in an exhaustive listing of the various chenopodiums, was a detailed reference to GKH. The text explained that GKH was extensively cultivated in gardens and cottage gardens. The author went on to say that the plant has ceased to be regarded as a common vegetable, although it is still occasionally boiled by cottagers.

Good-King-Henry has a perennial root, as opposed to lamb’s quarters, which is an annual. With all these pleasant-sounding attributes, it’s easy to see why I have searched, in vain, for GKH over the years since first learning about it. And now, it appears, my search is over.

The end of my quest came in the form of one of those pesky garden packages of postcard-type order blanks. While thumbing through these cards before discarding them, I came upon one that caught my eye. It was from Le Jardin du Gourmet and it read “the 40-cent seed packet.”

The idea here is to give people a chance to try new herbs, flowers and vegetables without having to pay a fortune. I looked at the abbreviated list of herb seeds on the back of the card and that prompted me to visit their website. There, I saw an offer for Good-King-Henry.

I could barely believe my eyes, much less my good fortune. I immediately sent in an order for a packet of GKH seed, as well as a bunch of other seeds that I had planned on buying anyway, come spring. Shipping came to $3.50 my order total was something like $7.50.

So now I sit and wait for the mail carrier to deliver my Good-King-Henry seeds.

I plan on starting the seeds indoors and setting the young plants out in a select section of one of raised bed gardens. If these taste as good as I suspect they do, GKH will become a regular member of my vegetable garden community. If not, I've only lost 40 cents. But either way, I will have resolved my wondering and hunting for this great-sounding plant.

By the way, the website for this interesting little seed company from St. Johnsbury, Vermont, is:

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