Fat hen

For a vegetable that looks like, and is often considered, a weed, fat hen is a worthwhile crop to seek out for its nutritional value.

The fat hen family includes quinoa, spinach, red beets, sugar beets, and Swiss chard. While fat hen has become more and more popular over the last 300 years, it has been around for thousands of years beforehand. The seeds of the plant have been found in many European ruins and scientists found fat hen to be a major part of the ritual meal of the Tollund Man in Denmark around 300 BC.  In North America, the Blackfoot Tribe used the seeds as early as 1500 AD. Fat hen is firmly embedded in the cultures and meals of the Navajo, the Pueblo, the tribes of Arizona, and the Iroquois.

Fat hen is your diet friend

For the most part, fat hen is extensively cultivated and consumed in the Northern regions of India as a common food crop while it is treated as a weed virtuall everywhere else. However, because of improvements in trade and cultivation science throughout the years, most of Europe is now able to cultivate fat hen and enjoy the health benefits it provides. Fat hen is also found in Australia, Africa, and North America and can now be grown anywhere there is nitrogen rich soil and a mildly warm climate for at least part of the year.

Fat hen makes a useful trap for micro-pest nuisances like leaf miners. In this capacity, the leaf miners are attracted to the fat hen crop rather than nearby crops that a farmer would want to protect. Fat hen is very often used as a host for the destructive beet leafhopper. But, when you see the health benefits and the taste of the fat hen, you know that this plant has more going on for it than working as a bug repellent.

Preparation and cooking

Leaves and young shoots may be eaten either steamed in its entirety, or chopped and cooked like spinach. Each plant produces thousands of black seeds which can be eaten when cooked or used as flour when ground. They are high in protein, vitamin A, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. One warning to keep in mind is that fat hen should be consumed in moderation due to the high levels of oxalic acid which blocks the intake of the high levels of calcium these leafy greens contain.

If you've been through the gamut of leafy greens and you're looking for something new, fat hen will be a pleasant addition to your cooking repertoire. Once you find this nutritional powerhouse, you'll be anxious to discover all the dishes you can make with it. Surprise your family with something other than spinach tonight.

Fat hen has numerous names, such as lamb's quarter, goosefoot and it is even sometimes called pigweed. Every name is reflective of an animal, and that is part of the myth and lore making this vegetable such a wonder in different cultures.

Nutritional value

A half-cup serving of cooked fat hen contains over 300 mg of calcium and 11,600 IU of vitamin A. In comparison, Swiss chard has 88g calcium and 6,000 IU of vitamin A. Spinach has 93g calcium and 8,000 IU of vitamin A. The greens are also an excellent source of B vitamins, especially riboflavin and folic acid. When you add fat hen to your regular diet, you have amped up your nutritional palate in a big way.

Fat hen - goosefoot, lamb's quarters, pigweed.

chenopodium album (Amaranthaceae)