Fat Hen – the forgotten Wild Vegetable?
Updated: May 2, 2019
Fat Hen has many names, most probably forgotten. This Wild Vegetable is actually a fast growing weed that is generous in all of its life stages. Other names include White Goosefoot, Lamb's Quarters, Dungweed or Dirty Dick. This weed isn’t just famous here in the UK, it’s names continue in other countries where it is names include Grasse Poulette in France, in Germany it is called Fette Henne or in the United States where it is called Pigweed. Although Fat Hen has so many names and is globally renowned it is largely forgotten as a food here in the UK. Indeed a close cousin of Fat Hen is now commonly grown in gardens and vegetable patches. Tree Spinach is now planted in its place whilst the shoots of Fat Hen are pulled from the earth.
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Fat Hen is a tall annual and a member of the beet and spinach family. It’s leaves are lance shaped and grey-green with the plant reaching up to 1m in height. Both stems and leaves are covered with a light white very fine hairs and the leaves can be easily recognised due to their close similarity to a ducks foot. The small, greenish flowers grow in clusters from leaf joints on spikes and are also edible.
Fat-hen will practically grow anywhere, it can be found whenever the frosts have ceased but is most prolific from May to October. Fat Hen prefers rich soils, a good reason why it is so often found in well cropped gardens! This love for good soil, like all good vegetables, leads to good and downright delicious leaves that are enjoyed by humans and many other creatures alike.
The iron rich leaves and young shoots may be eaten raw as a leaf vegetable or sauteed in plenty of butter and seasoning, try it with a small grate of Nutmeg and a splash of cream as well (thank me later). Fat Hen makes a great soup - cream of Fat Hen soup, can be used in a quiche or flan - Fat Hen and Ricotta Tart. Or simply served as a side.
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As well as the leaves, shoots and flowers that are all edible, each plant produces masses of black seeds. The Fat Hen seeds are extremely good for you and are high in protein, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium to name but a few of the elements. The seeds can be ground and used as a rough dark flour, this dark flour can then be used to make pancakes or even bread, just writing this I am inspired to make a loaf from the dark flour and make open sandwiches with wild Horseradish cream, flecks of green Dill and slices of soft smoked Salmon… Yummy!
Fat Hen although disliked immensely by most Gardeners should be recognised and enjoyed by more people. Although world famous this forgotten Wild food is definitely the victim of the success of other vegetables and for this reason has fallen off the radar of non-foraging folk. This plentiful and delicious wild vegetable is just sitting there waiting to be rediscovered so get out there remember this common plant and see what you can cook with it!
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