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Common Name: Mealy Goosefoot
Chenopodium incanum is an annual plant that can grow up to 0.50 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of materials.
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 poisonous, saponins also have a range of medicinal applications and many saponin-rich plants are used in herbalism (particularly as emetics, expectorants and febrifuges) or as sources of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Saponins are also found in a number of common foods, such as many beans.
Saponins have a quite bitter flavour and are in general poorly absorbed by the human body, so most pass through without harm. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins.
Saponins are much more toxic to many cold-blooded 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 and make them easy to catch[
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[
Central N. America - Nebraska to Wyoming, Kansas and Arizona.
] in waste ground[
]. Sandy soils and hills, limestone and gypsiferous soils, waste areas at elevations of 500 - 2500 metres[
We have very little information on this species and do not know how well it will grow in Britain, but it should succeed as a spring sown annual. 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 and eaten like spinach[
]. The raw leaves should only be eaten in small quantities, see the notes above on toxicity.
Seed - cooked. It can be ground into a powder and mixed with wheat or other cereals in making bread etc[
]. The seed is small and fiddly, about 1mm in diameter[
], it should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins.
Gold/green dyes can be obtained from the whole plant[
Seed - sow spring in situ. Most of the seed usually germinates within a few days of sowing.