When it comes to the botanical name of the plant commonly known as Good King Henry there is some confusion as to what it really is. The plant was originally classified in 1753 by German botanist Carl Linnaeus as Chenopodium bonus-henricus in his seminal work Species Planetarium, which was, for lack of a better term an encyclopedia of plants (Linnaeus, 1753). However since 2012 genetic testing has revealed that the plant is, at a molecular level, more similarly related to the spinach family and thus its name is properly recorded as Blitum bonus-henricus (Susy Fuentes-Bazan, Pertti Uotila, Thomas Borsch, 2012). Good King Henry also has a slew of other colloquial names including Lincolnshire Asparagus, Lincolnshire Spinach, and Poor-Man’s Asparagus (Temperate Climate Permaculture). Despite its rather regal sounding name the plant has absolutely no connection with any of England’s many King Henrys nor does it have any connection to any of France’s King Henry’s for that matter. Rather the plant was originally named Guter Heinrich (Good Henry) by the Germans, the English simply appropriated the plant name and added in the regal heading to make the plant their own (Temperate Climate Permaculture).
Good King Henry is a self pollinating, perennial herb, native, as its name suggests, to Europe, but it can be found growing wild in North America, most predominantly in North Eastern Canada and the United States; it was originally brought to the European colonies as a potherb (Mother Earth Living). Good King Henry, in a permaculture sense makes for good ground cover it grows to be anywhere from 40-80 cm tall and is one of the few herbs around that prefers partial shade (Mother Earth Living). Good King Henry is ideally planted in well drained garden soil but many people have had success using it as a cover crop in food forests where it can create a rather dense herbal blanket. The Plant is also relatively hardy which makes it well suited to many different environments, it carries a USDA hardiness classification of 3-9 (Temperate Climate Permaculture). Given its ability to live in a variety of climates the plant can flower any time between May and October depending on the USDA zone in which it is located. The plant has many, almost triangular leaves, extending from the main shoot, upon the top of the shoot one can find the seeds which are clustered and look very much like a grain. The Diagram produced by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (Located at the top of this article) is an ideal representation of the plant (Temperate Climate Permaculture).
Good King Henry has been used for hundreds of years. Alys Fowler, a gardening columnist for the Guardian claims that the plant has been cultivated for human production since the peak of the Roman Empire. This would make some sense because just about every part of the plant is edible. The leaves can be eaten cooked or raw; however, most sources warn about eating the leaves raw in great quantities due to the presence of Oxalic acid which is not good for human consumption in great quantities. The good news is that Oxalic acid can be neutralized with heat so cooking the leaves makes them very edible. The shoots, as the colloquial name ‘Poor Man’s Asparagus’ may suggest, can be picked and eaten just like asparagus. The flower buds can also be eaten like small broccoli and the seeds of the plant are very similar to Quinoa. Other than being a hardy low maintenance crop Good King Henry also has several unique medicinal qualities. Most agree that the plant, if enough is eaten, can be used as a gentle laxative one which would be most effective, and safe to use, on children. Some have also stated that the planet can be beneficial in treating parasitic worm infections (Temperate Climate Permaculture). Good King Henry is also rich in Iron and Vitamin C both of which are essential to humans (Mother Earth Living).
Fowler, A. (2011, March 11). The renaissance of Good King Henry. Retrieved June 05, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/mar/12/alys-fowler-good-king-henry-poppies
Fuentes-Bazan, S. Pertti Uotila, Thomas Borsch: A novel phylogeny-based generic classification for Chenopodium sensu lato, and a tribal rearrangement of Chenopodioideae (Chenopodiaceae). In: Willdenowia. Vol. 42, No. 1, 2012, p. 18.
Kitsteiner, J. (n.d.). Permaculture Plants: Good King Henry. Retrieved June 05, 2017, from http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2012/02/permaculture-plants-good-king-henry.html Linnaeus, C. Species Plantarum. Vol. 1, Impensis Laurentii Salvii, Holmiae, 1753, p.218.
Ogden Publications. (1994, February 01). Herb To Know: Good-King-Henry. Retrieved June 05, 2017, from http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/an-herb-to-know-9