Chenopodium canihua O.F.Cook
Common Name: Cañihua
Plants (in foreground) ripening their crop of seeds
Photograph by: Crops for the Future
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Cañihua is a much-branched, erect annual plant growing up to 60cm tall.
Cañihua was once often cultivated for its edible seed in S. America[
], though it is seldom grown now[
]. There are some named varieties[
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[
S. America - Bolivia, Peru.
A common weed of cultivated ground, especially on rich soils, it grows in areas where frosts can occur in 9 months of the year, including during the growing season[
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Cultivated, Wild
A plant of high elevations in the tropics where it can be found at elevations up to 4,000 metres. Adult plants are unaffected by night frosts in the growing season, the seed can germinate at a soil temperature of 5°c, whilst the plant will flower at 10°c and ripen its seed at 15°c[
Succeeds on most soils, including shallow soils, but dislikes shade[
]. Prefers a moderately fertile soil[
]. Once the plant is about 5cm tall it is very drought tolerant[
]. The plant has short stout stems and resists wind and heavy rain[
]. It is also more resistant than barley or quinoa to low night temperatures[
]. Plants do not like excess humidity[
]. They tolerate a pH in the range from 4.8 to 8.5 and show some salt tolerance[
The seed is somewhat laborious to harvest and dehusk, it is enveloped in a papery husk and this is removed by soaking in water and then rubbing[
]. Most varieties take about 150 days from seed sowing to harvest, but at least one quick-maturing type can be harvested in 95 days[
]. Yields of 2.4 tonnes per hectare are average, but twice this has been recorded[
Plants seem to be quite resistant to most pests and diseases[
The flowers are closed at fertility and so seem to be almost exclusively self-pollinating[
]. Plants are day-length neutral and have matured crops as far north as latitude 64°north in Finland[
Although used in much the same way, this species is not very closely related to quinoa, C. Quinoa[
Leaves - cooked and used like spinach[
]. The raw leaves should only be eaten in small quantities, see the notes above on toxicity. Young leaves contain up to 30% protein (dry weight)[
Seed - cooked[
]. It can be toasted and ground into a nutty tasting powder that can be used as a breakfast cereal. It can also be used to make biscuits, mixed with flour it is used to make bread and a hot beverage similar to hot chocolate can also be made from it[
]. Very small, about 1mm in diameter, but abundantly produced[
]. The seed contains little or no saponins and so can be used without pre-treatment[
]. The seed is extremely nutritious, it contains about 16% of a high quality protein (it is notably rich in lysine, isoleucine and tryptophan), almost 60% carbohydrate and 8% fat[
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.