A vegetable from Roman times back on the plate.

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I think I have just found my new favourite vegetable, Good King Henry. I’ve been growing this on my allotment for many years, it returns each year without grumble, it isn’t bothered with pests and just gets on without complaint; but I have never eaten any…

He isn’t a pretty looking veg at first glance, rather plain and unassuming, boring some might say, but wow it’s tasty!

Usually at this time of year I’m getting stuck into the salad, courgettes maybe the odd pea or bean, but as it was so cold for so long I’m still waiting to harvest something. That’s why Good King Henry caught my eye.

Since medieval times the people of Europe have eaten this veg or herb. It was used for loads of different purposes it was a dye which gave a gold and green colour. It was also used to ease tummy ache in children has the seed is a very gentle laxative. Chickens love it too that’s why it’s also known as ‘Fat Hen’. It’s also said that this humble plants roots helped livestock especially sheep and goats if they were suffering from a cough!

Some other names it’s known by Markery, English Mercury, Mercury goosefoot, Perennial Goosefoot, Many-seeded Goosefoot, Oak-leaved goosefoot, Red goosefoot, Common orache, long-stalked orache, spear-leaved orache, Prickly saltwort, Fat Hen or Shoemakers’ heels.

Good names, but I think I will stick to Good King Henry. I think I’ve fallen in love with this plant even more since it has so much history. The Romans brought it to Britain, it featured heavily in Tudor gardens it was also a big feature in the Anglo-Saxon diets were it had the name Guter Henrich which I think is the name of a German fairy… I think!

I have mine growing in a Raised bed with some other perennials like horseradish and Jerusalem Artichokes. But I hear it’s perfect in a large planter on the patio, just keep it well watered and repot each new season with nice fresh compost. It grows to about 60 cm tall so will fill a gap on your patio very nicely.

Picking and harvesting
Pick and use straight away as I believe from what I’ve read it goes limp quickly but can be stored in the freezer. The plant is rich in iron, calcium and vitamins B&C so the question is what does it taste like?

Wow it’s lovely! I picked a few big spears, at the moment it’s flowering. I plucked the leaves off and threw them into a frying pan with some olive oil a big knob of butter and a couple of pinches of garlic powder. It cooked very quickly like spinach and like spinach, if your feeding a family you will need quite a lot. But it was absolutely beautiful, I would say a cross between spinach and asparagus, I will be eating a lot of this and saving the seed to sow more next year!

They also say you can sautéed the flower buds in butter too, but they were a bit too bitter for my taste buds and even the young shoots are very good, tied together in bundles and cooked and eaten like asparagus, which I will definitely try! If you make your own bread you can collect the seed to add to your bread mix, you need to soak the seeds over night.

So there you have it my new favourite vegetable planted and forgotten about for 8 years on my allotment and brought to the UK in 55BC but today I rediscovered it, I highly recommend growing some and what a story to tell your dinner guests.

Happy gardening my friend! X


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