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Fat Hen  (Goosefoot / Lambs Quarters)

Chenopodium album, Amaranthaceae

A widespread plant growing naturally and cultivated in many parts of the world and historically used as feed for chickens, hence the common name. Gardeners seem to put a lot of effort in to battling it from their flower beds, but like a lot of weeds why poison it to death when you can just eat it?

Farmers have a tougher time with the plant since it can out-compete many important crops like sugar beet and corn – perhaps you can do a local farmer a favour and get rid of some for them? (of course get permission before wandering around in a crop field and don’t touch it if it has already been sprayed with herbicide!)

The leaves are ever so slightly fleshy compared with cultivated greens like spinach or lettuce, with a mild and inoffensive, if not slightly bitter, flavour. It’s nothing incredible in my opinion, but fills a gap and like many wild plants is extremely nutritious providing a valuable source of vitamins A, B, and K amongst a great many other useful vitamins and minerals so is worth eating if not only for that. 

It's a hardy plant that will pop up pretty much anywhere, the plants below are growing in a tyre planter alongside our runner beans. I figured they help shade the soil and are a crop in themselves so decided they could stay, for a while at least, and the beans don't seem to mind!




Goosefoot is a good name to remember as it accurately describes the shape of the wide main leaves with deep lobes. The younger leaves higher on the stalk appear longer with less shape, becoming increasingly lance shaped the higher you look.

The surface of the leaves develops a kind of curious mealy-white ‘bloom’ which can be rubbed away with your fingers. I’m not sure myself as to what the bloom actually is, my attempts at research into the matter proving fruitless for now, if you know then please let us know in the comments below! A mystery always bugs me...

The flowers develop in clusters much like those on nettles (inflorescence), hardly looking like a flower in the traditional sense but clearly get the job done, developing further into clusters of tiny edible seeds.

The overall plant grows to almost a spike and, depending on the quality of the soil, ranges from 10 inches to several feet in height.



The easiest to confuse with Fat Hen is its similar looking relatives, most of which are edible in the same way, the most common being:

Good King Henry 

Orache (a salt hardy relative of coastal areas)


A lookalike to beware of is Wormwood, also known as Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris and Artemisia absynthium) which has a similar colour and growing habit but which leaves are very different. Wormwood’s contain the toxic natural pesticide Thujone which can cause kidney failure, convulsions, and hallucinations in high enough doses!


Preparation & use:

Gather the younger leaves throughout summer for enjoying fresh in salads and save the older, tougher leaves for cooked dishes. Avoid leaves with erratically ‘drawn’ lines on them as they will contain the a pesky ‘leaf miner’ insect that seems to favour the plant!

It’s grown as a food crop in India (Bathua), so perhaps adding it to a Dal is a good place to start...

Fat Hen is a wild relative of Quinoa and Amaranth, both gluten-free ‘pseudocereal’ crops fast growing in popularity, and if you can be bothered to gather and process enough of the seeds (produced late summer to early autumn) you can indeed eat them the same way!

There’s a lot of Spinach-eske variants in the wilds of Britain and Fat Hen is no different there, its mild flavour means it lends itself to as wide a variety of dishes. I figure I’ll add it to other veg as a way of pimping out an otherwise lacking meal. This time it was nothing more than salad fodder, though I’m looking forward to incorporating it into lots more, there’s plenty of it around!

A slight word of warning regarding its regular use: the leaves contain low levels of Oxalic acid (causing Kidney Stones and Joint Pain in high amounts) so shouldn’t be eaten every day to avoid building up to dangerous levels, don’t let that scare you too much though since so does cultivated Spinach and Chard - just something to be aware of.


For more information check out 'The Indian Vegan's detailed post on the plant, I’ll certainly be spending a lot of time perusing that site!


Happy foraging, come back and let us know what you thought of it in the comments below!


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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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