Common Name Good King Henry
Light sun to part
Edible greens, shoots, broccolis
Good King Henry is a common perennial plant growing up to 400–800 mm tall. The leaves are 50–100 mm long and broad, triangular to diamond-shaped, with a pair of broad pointed lobes near the base, with a slightly waxy, succulent texture. The flowers are produced in a tall, nearly leafless spike 100–300 mm long; each flower is very small (3–5 mm diameter), green, with five sepals. The seeds are reddish-green, 2–3 mm diameter.
Young leaves can be raw or cooked. The leaves wilt quickly after picking and so they need to be used as soon after harvesting as possible. The leaves are best in spring and early summer, the older leaves become tough and bitter. The raw leaves should only be eaten in small quantities, see the notes below on toxicity. The cooked leaves make an acceptable spinach substitute, but are best mixed with other leaves, and are a good source of iron. Young flowering shoots can be cooked like brocolli. When grown on good soil, the shoots can be as thick as a pencil and when about 12cm long, they are cut just under the ground, peeled and used like asparagus.
Young flower buds can be cooked as a gourmet food. Seed can be ground and mixed with flour then used in making bread etc. The seed is small and fiddly but is easily harvested. It should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins.
The leaves and seeds of all members of this genus are more or less edible. However, many of the species in this genus contain saponins, though usually in quantities too small to do any harm. Although toxic, saponins are poorly absorbed by the body and most pass straight through without any problem. They are also broken down to a large extent in the cooking process. Saponins are found in many foods, such as some beans. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes, etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish. The plants also contain some oxalic acid, which in large quantities can lock up some of the nutrients in the food. However, even considering this, they are very nutritious vegetables in reasonable quantities. Cooking the plants will reduce their content of oxalic acid. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.