Fat Hen

Chenopodium album

This plant is easily recognised by the firm beads of moisture on the leaves.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers; Leaves; Seed.

Leaves - raw or cooked. A very acceptable spinach substitute, the taste is a little bland but this can be improved by adding a few stronger-flavoured leaves. One report says that, when eaten with beans, the leaves will act as a carminative to prevent wind and bloating. The leaves are best not eaten raw, see the notes above on toxicity. The leaves are generally very nutritious but very large quantities can disturb the nervous system and cause gastric pain. The leaves contain about 3.9% protein, 0.76% fat, 8.93% carbohydrate, 3% ash. A zero moisture basis analysis is also available. Edible seed - dried and ground into a meal and eaten raw or baked into a bread. The seed can also be sprouted and added to salads. The seed is very fiddly to harvest and use due to its small size, although some say the seed is very easy to harvest and simple enough to utilize. The seed should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before being used in order to remove any saponins. The seed contains about 49% carbohydrate, 16% protein, 7% ash, 5.88% ash. Young inflorescences - cooked. A tasty broccoli substitute.

Medicinal Uses

Anthelmintic; Antiphlogistic; Antirheumatic; Contraceptive; Laxative; Odontalgic.

Fat hen is not often employed in herbal medicine, though it does have some gentle medicinal properties and is a very nutritious and healthy addition to the diet. The leaves are anthelmintic, antiphlogistic, antirheumatic, mildly laxative, odontalgic. An infusion is taken in the treatment of rheumatism. The leaves are applied as a wash or poultice to bug bites, sunstroke, rheumatic joints and swollen feet, whilst a decoction is used for carious teeth. The seeds are chewed in the treatment of urinary problems and are considered useful for relieving the discharge of semen through the urine. The juice of the stems is applied to freckles and sunburn. The juice of the root is used in the treatment of bloody dysentery. Food that comprises 25.5% of the powdered herb may suppress the oestrus cycle.

Other Uses

Dye; Soap.

A green dye is obtained from the young shoots. The crushed fresh roots are a mild soap substitute.

Cultivation details

An easily grown plant, often a weed, succeeding in most soils but disliking shade. It prefers a moderately fertile soil. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.5 to 8.3. In moderate amounts this plant is a good companion for potatoes, corn and cucurbits. The plant responds directly to the magnesium content of the soil so it can be used to indicate the presence of that element. Fat hen is occasionally cultivated as a food crop.


Seed - sow spring in situ. It is usually unnecessary to sow the seed since the plant is a common garden weed and usually self-sows freely.