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Common Name: California Goosefoot
Chenopodium californicum is an annual plant that can grow up to 0.60 metres tall.
It has edible, medicinal and miscellaneous uses.
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[
South-western N. America - California.
Dry to moist slopes, ledges, plains, yellow-pine forests, yucca-juniper woodlands, chaparral and under oaks and willows at elevations of 30 - 1500 metres[
We have very little information on this species and do not know if it will be hardy in Britain, though judging by its native range it could succeed outdoors in many parts of this country. It is likely to require a well-drained soil in a sunny position. The following notes are based on the general needs of the genus.
An easily grown plant, succeeding in most soils but disliking shade[
]. It prefers a moderately fertile soil[
Leaves and young shoots - cooked. Used like spinach[
]. The raw leaves should only be eaten in small quantities, see the notes above on toxicity.
Seed - cooked[
]. The seed is usually dried then ground into a powder and used with cereal flours in making bread etc[
]. The seed is small and fiddly, it should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins.
The milky sap has been used to make a gum[
A decoction of the whole plant has been used to treat stomach disorders[
A decoction of the root has been applied as a poultice on numbed or paralysed limbs[
Gold/green dyes can be obtained from the whole plant[
The root is saponaceous[
]. The scraped root is mixed with water to produce a detergent foam that can be used for washing the body, clothes etc[
Seed - sow spring in a cold frame. Put a few seeds into each pot and thin if necessary to the best plant. Germination is normally fast and good. Plant out in late spring, after the last expected frosts.
Division in spring.