Good King Henry is often featured in lists of edible perennial plants, but I have found very few people saying they actually grow it and like it.
Here are some of the various things I've found written about it:
- Many people suggest it as a perennial edible, or say they plan to plant it, but I just haven't found much by people who eat it and like it.
- It is described as being harvested like asparagus (but my second year shoots were a leaf rosette, not a tight shoot)
- The book Bioshelter Market Garden mentions it as a salad ingredient in their spring mix (which would imply raw leaves, I think?) ... but:
- Stephen Barstow, as a featured author on Permies, said:
for me the taste of raw Good King Henry has earned it the name Bad King Henry in my book
- The most detailed info I've found is in the book Perennial Vegetables:
Good King Henry is a reliable, low-maintenance spinach relative adapted to most of the United States and Canada. It has been cultivated in Europe in the past as a cooking green and for its shoots, known as Lincolnshire asparagus, as well as for its edible seeds as a grain crop. The shoots were once a very popular vegetable in England. If given a rich soil with plenty of compost or rotted manure, it can produce shoots 20 days before asparagus and continue to do so until several weeks after the asparagus harvest is over. That’s a season of over three months! The leaves are eaten as a fine cooking green, although their flavor is a bit bitter and they are best mixed with other greens.
- And oddly enough, in an old Time-Life Herbs book:
Good King Henry can be grown Zones 5-8; and prefers partial shade to full sun. Seedlings are slow to appear, plant them 9 - 12 inches apart; but it is easier to divide root clumps of mature plants. They taste best in the spring; should grow 3 years before harvesting; if shoots are to be harvested like asparagus, mulch in fall with 4 or 5 inches of leaf mold or compost, shielding them from light.
A permies member did post this, which was encouraging, but he was 2-post wonder:
I love Good King Henry, a lovely perennial spinach. It reliably has produced for me 6 years running and is an early spring green. Nothing like spring omelettes with garlic mustard, chives and Good King Henry and some of last year's tomato sauce!
Other bits I've found:
- Some people have had difficulty germinating it. (But I had reasonable success with naturalistic stratification, planting it in a container outside in April during light snow. And now in my cold greenhouse, it is reseeding itself.)
- Some people have difficulty finding seeds. (I got seed from Fedco in the US.)
- Some people confuse it with Fat Hen (Chenopodium album, which is called lambsquarters in the US), or conjecture that it is just a bred up version of C. album, but to me it looks like quite a different species. It is perennial, the leaves are different, the overall plant shape is different, and the seeds are much bigger.
- I have always seen it identified as Chenopodium bonus-henricus but Wikipedia says that genetic research has revealed it is not in that genus, and since 2012 it is called Blitum bonus-henricus.
So if you've grown it or eaten it, please share your experience! I'm eager to hear.
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I struggle with this with many perennials that are supposed to take the place of some annual. I love the idea of perennial food crops. I plant tree crops of course, and fruits, nuts, and berries taste great and make sense to me. Edible weeds and perennial plants that are rarely grown taste so inferior to me that I've largely given up on them except as novelties. I'm going to keep trying, but annuals are in no danger of being replaced by perennial substitutes anytime soon at my place. Other than berries or tree crops, asparagus is the only real perennial I grow to eat.
Just finished reading Perennial Vegetables today and was considering Good King Henry as a possible addition. Glad to see this thread! I think its more likely that I will just keep using lambsquarter. It's close enough to perennial and I know I like it.
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