Good King Henry or Lincolnshire spinach
Updated: Apr 28
Good King Henry or Chenopodium bonus-henricus like most herbs has a multitude of names including; Perennial goosefoot, Lincolnshire spinach, markey, mercury, blite, wild spinach, early spinach, oak-leaved goosefoot, red goosefoot, common orache, long-stalked orache, spear-leaved orache, even poor-man’s asparagus.
Good King Henry is yet another perennial plant native to Southern Europe that the Romans transported abroad. Good King Henry has most likely been used as a food in the UK from the Middle Ages or before. But its common inclusion in vegetable beds largely died out over the previous century, but it is still remembered, particularly in Lincolnshire.. However, it has not been forgotten by hungry foragers!
For the very best in wild food guides check out our wild food and foraging books
What does Good King Henry look like?
Good King Henry is a close relative of the plant Chenopodium album, which as its common name – Fat Hen – suggests, was used to feed birds. It is a semi-wild plant that is both grown and found in the wild.
The plant grows to be around 75cm tall, with a long stalk and arrow-shaped leaves. It has large, triangular leaves with powdery surfaces and wavy edges. The first leaves emerge in April and are available for picking until August. From May through August, the small flower spikes are visible.
Where can you find Good King Henry?
Look along the sides of the road, on disturbed or waste ground, or even in your garden. Look for it in partially shaded areas.
What does Good King Henry taste like?
The flavour is similar to spinach and becomes more bitter as the season continues. The leaves, stalks, and blossom buds can all be eaten. It has strongly acidic and sharp-flavoured leaves which, like sorrel and rhubarb, contain oxalic acid and should be consumed in moderation by anyone suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, gout or bladder stones.
Live near the coast? Another spinach alternative to try is Sea Beet or Wild Spinach.
Harvesting Good King Henry
When fresh, the leaves and shoots are tasty and full of iron, but as they age, they start to taste bitter. However, throughout the growth season, the new leaves can be continuously removed.
Growing shoots can be harvested from April to June. Allow the shoots to mature after June, then consume the young leaves and blooming stalks in salads or sauté the blooms in butter. Seeds are available from late summer / autumn.
How do you cook Good King Henry?
The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or boiled, steamed, or steaming. Young shoots and stalks can be taken before they grow hollow and cooked or boiled like asparagus, while flower buds can be sautéed in butter. The seeds can also be collected and cooked similar to Quinoa.
Get more Wild Food recipes by checking out our selection of Wild Food Cookbooks.
Good King Henry Recipes
Italian style Good King Henry
Bunch of young Good King Henry leaves
2 Tbsp Olive oil
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
Trim off the stems off the stems. Wash the leaves and drain. Cook the greens in either a large pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes.
Meanwhile, in a frying pan add the olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes if using, cook 1 minute, then add the cooked Good King Henry leaves and salt toss gently until heated through 1-2 minutes. Finish with a swirl of Balsamic vinegar and serve.
Good King Henry and Stilton Tart
This recipe really helps to take the bitterness of the leaves down, the honey is the perfect foil and combinaiton alongside the cheese.
Large bunch of young Good King Henry leaves
2 tsp golden caster sugar
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
320g sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
200g stilton cheese
3 tbsp clear honey
a few springs thyme, leaves picked
olive oil / small knob if butter
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/.
In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the butter and gently wilt the good king henry leaves for a few minutes. When the leaves are nearly dry, add the sugar and lemon juice and again reduce until all of the moisture has evaporated. Allow to cool slightly on a plate.
Unroll the puff pastry sheet and score a 1/2cm border around the edge lightly. Using a spoon, and keeping within your border, evenly spread the good king henry leaves over the pastry. Crumble your cheese over the leaves, leaving some big chunks.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs up, crisps up, and becomes golden. Meanwhile, warm the honey with the thyme and lemon zest until it is runny. Drizzle the dressing over the tart and serve with a green salad.
Click the link to get the very best foraging kit and equipment