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Chenopodium album L.

Sp. pl. 1: 219 (1753).
Chenopodiaceae (APG: Amaranthaceae)
Chromosome number
2n = 36, 54
Vernacular names
White goosefoot, pigweed, lamb’s quarters, lambsquarters (En). Chénopode blanc, ansérine blanche (Fr). Catassol (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Chenopodium album is mainly known as a noxious weed with global distribution, occurring from 70°N to 50°S, including all African countries; in the tropics mostly at higher altitudes. Already in prehistoric times seed was harvested for human consumption in both the Old and the New World. Chenopodium album has been domesticated in the Himalayan region, where it is grown as a grain crop in Nepal and northern India. In India it is also cultivated as a traditional leafy vegetable.
Young shoots and leaves of Chenopodium album are occasionally used as a vegetable, sometimes as a famine food. In southern Africa it is considered a popular wild vegetable. The young shoots are boiled and eaten alone or mixed with other vegetables. They may also be dried and stored for later use.
In isolated hill communities inhabiting the montane zone of the middle Himalayan range Chenopodium album is a subsistence food crop. The seed is processed into flour for pancakes and bread. It is boiled and mixed with other ingredients to make a kind of gruel, or is roasted and ground for porridge, and is also used for preparing fermented and alcoholic beverages. The seed is also used as poultry and livestock feed. Medicinally, the seed of Chenopodium album has been used tradionally to improve the appetite and as an anthelmintic, laxative, aphrodisiac and tonic; they are also thought to be useful in biliousness, abdominal pains, eye diseases, throat troubles, piles and diseases of blood, heart and spleen.
The nutritional composition of Chenopodium album leaves per 100 g edible portion is: water 84 g, energy 184 kJ (44 kcal), protein 4.3 g, fat 0.8 g, carbohydrate 7.3 g, fibre 2.1 g, Ca 280 mg, P 81 mg, vitamin A 11,300 IU, thiamin 0.15 mg, riboflavin 0.4 mg, niacin 1.3 mg, ascorbic acid 90 mg (Rubatzky, V.E. & Yamaguchi, M., 1997).
The nutritional composition of seed of Himalayan cultivars per 100 g is: energy 1654 kJ (395 kcal), protein 16 g, fat 7 g, carbohydrate 66 g (Partap, T., Joshi, B.D. & Galwey, N., 1998). Seed of the weedy types of Chenopodium album (in Africa and elsewhere), however, is probably of inferior quality and less nutritious. An ethanolic extract of the fruits has shown antipruritic and antinociceptive activities in tests with mice.
Erect annual herb up to 1.5(–4) m tall; young vegetative parts densely clothed with mealy-white or red-purple vesicles; stem angular, ribbed, with longitudal dark green or red streaks. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules absent; lower leaves with long petioles, ovate -rhomboid, irregularly and coarsely toothed or incised, higher ones gradually with shorter petioles, elliptical-oblong-lanceolate, less deeply incised or entire; blade 1.5–18 cm × 0.5–18 cm. Inflorescence a large, axillary and terminal, leafy panicle, consisting of clusters of flowers. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; tepals connate at base; stamens opposite tepals; ovary superior, depressed globose, 1-celled, style short, stigmas 2. Fruit a nut, entirely enclosed by the incurved tepals, thin-walled, indehiscent, 1-seeded. Seed nearly smooth, lenticular, 1–2 mm in diameter, testa thinly leathery, blackish-brown; embryo annular, surrounding the endosperm. Seedling with epigeal germination; hypocotyl 2–7 cm long; cotyledons leafy, stalked; first pair of leaves opposite, subsequent leaves alternate.
Chenopodium is a large genus (100–150 species), mainly found in temperate zones throughout the world. Some species have naturalized in the mountainous regions of the tropics. Chenopodium album consists of a very variable polyploid weed complex. In the montane zone of the central Himalayan region types selected from this complex are now cultivated for their seeds and for their leaves. The cultivars grown for the seeds can be distinguished from wild plants by their usually taller habit (up to 4 m), a large, leafless, exserted, compact and drooping inflorescence with bisexual and female flowers, and non-shattering, larger seed.
In Africa some other wild Chenopodium species are used as vegetables in a similar way as Chenopodium album. In Madagascar and Zambia Chenopodium giganteum D.Don (synonym: Chenopodium amaranticolor (Coste & Reyn.) Coste) (purple goosefoot, tree spinach) is considered an excellent cooked vegetable. It is closely related to Chenopodium album, but also to Chenopodium quinoa Willd. (quinoa), cultivated as a grain crop in South America, and its taxonomy is still unclear.
In southern Africa young parts of Chenopodium murale L. (nettle-leaved goosefoot) are used as a cooked vegetable, and in West Africa they are sometimes used in sauces. The plant is said to be a good forage although in Australia poisoning of livestock has been reported. In Morocco the seeds are eaten as a famine food. Chenopodium murale much resembles Chenopodium album, but differs in its rhombic-ovate leaves with numerous teeth, clearly cymose inflorescences and sharply keeled, closely pitted seeds.
The leaves of Chenopodium opulifolium Schrad. ex Koch & Ziz (grey goosefoot) are eaten as a cooked vegetable in Tanzania. The plant is also considered a good forage and sometimes it is cultivated as an ornamental. It is very similar to Chenopodium album, but differs in its broader leaves and usually more glaucous mealy inflorescence.
The wide distribution of Chenopodium album as a weed points to a broad tolerance of climates with average temperatures ranging from 5–30°C. It tolerates night frost. In Africa and elsewhere it is a weed of cultivated and disturbed localities, usually occurring above 1000 m altitude. In the long days of the temperate and subtropical zones it grows to a large size and it is there that it offers the most serious competition to crops.
In Africa young shoots and leaves of Chenopodium album are collected from the wild. Cultivation and use as a subsistence seed crop is limited to an estimated 1500 ha in the Himalayas. Grain chenopods are commonly sown 1–2 cm deep in rows 25–50 cm apart depending on soil moisture content and expected rainfall. The 1000-seed weight is about 1.4 g. Seed rate is 6–10 kg/ha, resulting in 100–150 plants per m2. The seedbed should be well prepared. The seed may also be broadcast, but it is easier to weed when sown in rows. Broadcasting requires about 20 kg of seed per ha. Seedlings will emerge in approximately one week in a sufficiently moist soil with an average temperature above 10°C. The period between sowing and flowering and from flowering until maturity of the seed is very variable. Early and daylength-neutral cultivars may take 50–60 days to flowering and 90–110 days to seed maturity, whereas late and short-day cultivars need 4–5 weeks longer. Grain chenopods are predominantly self-pollinating; cross pollination is less than 10%. In Himachal Pradesh (India), Chenopodium album is often intercropped, e.g. with finger millet, potato, maize, rice, amaranth, foxtail millet, sesame, soya bean, taro, cowpea or common bean. The most important disease is downy mildew (Peronospora farinosa f.sp. chenopodii), which causes much damage in chenopod growing areas all over the world. The disease is favoured by warm and humid weather. Some cultivars are partially resistant. Other fungal diseases may also cause serious damage, as well as insect pests, of which the leaf miner or leaf sticker Eurisaca melanocompta is the most serious. Birds attacking the crop before harvesting or during field drying probably cause the greatest crop losses. Bitter cultivars are less prone to such attacks than sweet ones. Harvesting methods used for cereals can also be used for grain chenopods. Plants are cut, bundled and dried, threshed, and the seed is winnowed. Yields of 0.2–0.6 t/ha are reported from farmers’ fields in India. One reason for low yields may be that grain chenopods are not often grown alone but are usually intercropped. Inflorescences do not dry easily. At harvest, seed moisture content may be around 20%, and artificial drying to 14% moisture may be necessary.
Genetic resources and breeding
Wild Chenopodium album is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion. Germplasm collection of cultivars is urgently needed, since their cultivation in the Himalayas is definitely declining as a result of lack of crop improvement, and farmers are turning to other, more profitable crops.
In Africa Chenopodium album will remain a minor leaf vegetable and in many regions it is considered a weed rather than a useful plant. The possibilities for cultivation of seed cultivars at higher altitudes are worthwhile investigating.
Major references
• Brenan, J.P.M., 1988. Chenopodiaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 133–161.
• Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille, 54e année, 6e série, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
• Mastebroek, H.D., van Soest, L.J.M. & Siemonsma, J.S., 1996. Chenopodium L. (grain chenopod). In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Partohardjono, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 10. Cereals. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 79–83.
• Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
• van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
Other references
• Aellen, P., 1959–1979. Chenopodiaceae. In: Rechinger, K.H. (Editor). Hegi, G. Illustrierte Flora von Mitteleuropa. 2nd Edition. Pteridophyta, Spermatophyta. Band 3. Angiospermae, Dicotyledones 1. Teil 2. Verlag Paul Parey, Berlin, Germany. pp. 533–747.
• Brenan, J.P.M., 1954. Chenopodiaceae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 143–145.
• Brenan, J.P.M., 1964. Chenopodiaceae. In: Turrill, W.B. & Milne-Redhead, E. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 26 pp.
• Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
• Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
• Partap, T., Joshi, B.D. & Galwey, N., 1998. Chenopods, Chenopodium spp. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops 22. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), Rome, Italy. 67 pp.
• Rubatzky, V.E. & Yamaguchi, M., 1997. World vegetables: principles, production and nutritive values. 2nd Edition. Chapman & Hall, New York, United States. 843 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Mastebroek, H.D., van Soest, L.J.M. & Siemonsma, J.S., 1996. Chenopodium L. (grain chenopod). In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Partohardjono, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 10. Cereals. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 79–83.
P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate Editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
PROSEA Network Office, Herbarium Bogoriense, P.O. Box 234, Bogor 16122, Indonesia

Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2004. Chenopodium album L. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
1, lower part of plant; 2, upper part of plant; 3, flower; 4, flower with 2 tepals removed; 5, fruit; 6, seed.
Source: PROSEA