Thursday, January 23, 2014

All About Bathua (Chenopodium album)

Origin of Bathua
Bathua--also known as lamb's quarters--is an ancient plant, related to both beetroot, spinach, and quinoa. According to the book, “Food in China,” bathua has been a food source of several old civilizations: it was likely cultivated in Neolithic Europe (7,000-1700 BC), and was also found in China circa 5th century AD. Most botanists agree that its origins are indeed in Europe, and evidence supports the claim that hunter-gatherers ate bathua throughout the Bronze Age and Iron Age.

A number of interesting anecdotes describe bathua’s unusual history: For example, Neolithic architects discovered bathua seeds in early Britain’s earthen pots. Scandinavia’s Tollund Man—a mummified corpse of a person thought to live circa 4th century BCE—had lambsquarters seeds found in his stomach at his execution site in a Danish bog. Many other accounts mention it as a source of food for the early Vikings, and Peter Kalm’s 1749 writings describe the ways in which Scandinavians boil the greens in meat-infused water. Even Napoleon Bonaparte relied on bathua seeds to feed his troops during lean times. Curiously, archeological remnants reveal that North American Blackfoot Indian tribes were using the weed in the early 1600s. This predates any known voyages from the old world to the new world. How and when bathua spread between continents is unknown.

Bathua has an undeserved reputation, given its wondrous nutritional profile: one of its many names includes “pigweed,” owed to the belief that it’s best suited for pig food. In most countries it’s regarded as a pest, as it grows prolifically in ravines, near plantations, and in the crevices of sidewalks. Indeed, it is an unwanted guest in many gardens. Despite man’s efforts to eradicate their presence with the use of noxious pesticides and herbicides, lamb’s quarters continue to be more resilient and adaptable than humans (who at this point would do best to welcome the plant into their kitchen pots)—the plant is here to stay.

Availability of Bathua
Bathua is readily available during India’s winter months at elevations up to 4,700 meters. Some sources, such as the “Handbook on Herbs Cultivation and Processing,” also list the plant as a summer crop in irrigated areas. Not many in India grow the plant commercially, though the locals of the Kulu Valley and Rajasthan such groups doing so on a small scale. In Shimla, for instance, they use many parts of bahua—the seeds double for rice and oatmeal, and are also added to dal. It is more common to find bathua in the north from Sikkim to Kashmir, but it is also available in the south.

When in season, produce shops sell bundles of the greens. They are a great alternative when other greens like methi and amaranth are out of season, and bathua also tends to be an inexpensive source of nutrients. If searching for the plant, keep a close eye out for their blunt, arrow-shaped, ridged leaves.

Bathua has an earthy, mineral-rich, astringent salty taste comparable to spinach. They are also more dense and fibrous, as opposed to crisp and juicy. The young, tender leaves may be used in salads, but the older leaves are best suited for cooked recipes on account of their bitterness. Liberally tossing in lemon juice may reduce its potent flavor. That said, bathua is by no means delicate: Only those who enjoy the darker, bitter greens such as kale and spinach will be inclined to appreciate lambsquarters.

Nutritional Value
5g Carb
2.1g Fiber (8% RDI)
.7g Fat (1% RDI)
32mg Omega-3 Fatty Acids
274mg Omega-6 Fatty Acids
3.2g Protein (6% RDI)
7817 IU Vitamin A (156% RDI)
37mg Vitamin C (62% RDI)
494mcg Vitamin K (618% RDI)
.1mg Thiamin (7% RDI)
.3mg Riboflavin (15% RDI)
.9mg Niacin (4% RDI)
.2mg Vitamin B6 (9% RDI)
14mcg Folate (3% RDI)
.1mg Pantothenic Acid (1% RDI)
258mg Calcium (26% RDI)
.7mg Iron (4% RDI)
23mg Magnesium (6% RDI)
45mg Phosphorous (4% RDI)
288mg Potassium (8% RDI)
265mg Sodium (11% RDI)
.3mg Zinc (2% RDI)
.2mg Copper (10% RDI)
.5mg Manganese (26% RDI)
.9mcg Selenium (1% RDI)

*Interestingly, a nutritional analysis of the plant presented at the 2013 2nd International Conference on Nutrition and Food Sciences indicates that mature leaves are higher in magnesium, calcium, and sodium, whereas young shoots are higher in copper and iron.

Health Benefits
Many groups in India use bathua medicinally. According to the book, “Indian Medicinal Plants,” bathua acts as a laxative, anthelmintic for hookworms and roundworms, and as a blood purifier. When prepared as an infusion, it manages hepatic disorders, spleen enlargement, biliousness, burns, and ulcers. The book, “Handbook on Herbs Cultivation and Processing” explains that that the ground plant mixed with alcohol is also applied topically to treat rheumatism and arthritis.

Regrettably, most scientific studies test the efficacy of pesticides against this lovely plant. A few, however, touch upon its nutritional and medicinal properties:
--According to a study published in the 2007 Journal of Ethnopharmacology, lamb’s quarters possess anthelmintic activity when tested on nematodes.
--A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental and Integrative Medicine explains that bathua illustrates hepatoprotective benefits and thus holds potential as a therapeutic agent.
--As per a 2009 study published in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, bathua leaves inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells, and may be a key anti-breast cancer bioagent.
--According to a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Applied Biology and Pharmaceutical Technology, bathua leaves illustrated antibacterial activity against five human pathogenic bacteria, including Salmonella typhimurium, Staphylococcus aureus, Proteus vulgaris, and Pseudomonas aueruginosa.
--A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Research, bathua leaf alcoholic extract act as a potent anti-ulcer agent: the plant significantly decreased gastric secretions, free acidity, and total acidity. Furthermore, the sections of the ulcerated area indicated maximum healing as evident by an increase in collagen and regenerated glandular epithelium.

Selecting Bathua
When inspecting bathua, look for a slightly white, dusty coating—this is perfectly natural, and is a hallmark feature of the plant. The leaves lose this powdery residue upon maturity. If consuming raw, look for younger leaves. Otherwise, opt for firm, dense leaves with no obvious signs of wilt.

If foraging for the plant, avoid ones growing next to commercial farms. The leaves may be coated with pesticide residues.

Preparation Methods
First, wash the greens to remove the dirt and grit. Next, remove the leaves from the stems—pick the young, tender leaves if using in a raw recipe; otherwise, they may be mixed with the mature ones.

To make a bathua paste for use in many traditional Indian recipes, steam the leaves until wilted, strain any water, and then blend until smooth. Add water only if necessary.

Bathua Recipe Ideas and Uses
--Use bathua as a spinach substitute.
--One of the simplest dishes for this green is lightly flavored steamed bathua: steam tender leaves until brightly green but not mushy. Plate the greens and drizzle olive oil, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and a bit of soy sauce.
--Make a raw vegan soup by blending soaked cashews, tomato, garlic, onion, lime, olive oil, dates, salt, bathua, butterfruit, and capsicum. To make a cooked soup, heat onions and garlic in olive oil until golden brown. Add salt and pepper, and then toss in plain soymilk with the greens. Blend until smooth.
--If in possession of a blender powerful enough to liquefy greens, use as part of a green smoothie. It pairs best with sweet fruits and veggies, such as beets and grapes.
--Add the whole leaves to lentil soup recipes near the last twenty minutes of the preparation.
--As is tradition in this Punjabi dish, add the leaves to sarson da saag—a greens puree served with a corn-based roti. To make, boil spinach, mustard greens and bathua with a hint of ginger in a pressure cooker for 8 whistles. Once cooked, blend into a puree. Separately, blend tomatoes and green chili. Heat oil and garlic until golden brown, then add spices: turmeric, coriander, chili, and salt. Add the tomato puree, and thicken with cornstarch. Add the greens puree, and heat. Serve with the corn rotis.
--A similar variation is bathue ki sabji, which are basically spicy potatoes covered in a gravy made from bathua paste.
--Mix bathua puree into cashew curd recipes, and serve alongside rotis.
--Add the boiled, pureed bathua leaf paste to any dosa or poori batter.
--Make a bathua spread to eat with red pepper strips or cucumbers: in a food processor, mix the leaves, garlic, onion, avocado or soaked cashews, toasted almonds, olives, cayenne pepper, and a dab of soy sauce.
--Add finely chopped bathua to stuffed mushroom recipes: include salt, pepper, chopped walnuts, olive oil, and olives as additional ingredients.
--Include bathua in a tofu scramble: crumble medium-firm tofu and sauté it in olive oil, garlic and onions. Add finely chopped greens, as well as any Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, rosemary) or Indian flavors (cumin, turmeric, curry).

Bathua paratha recipe, by Healthfooddesivideshi

Flavor Complements
Sage, thyme, garlic, onion, olive oil, mustard oil, mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, ginger, coriander, tomato, lime, lemon juice, capsicum, carrot

Binomial Name
Chenopodium album: its Latin name means “goose (Cheno) footed (podos) plant,” which fosters its other nickname, goosefoot. Album is in reference to its white, powdery bloom.

Other Names
Lamb’s quarters
Vastukah (Sanskrit)
Bathuwa (Hindi, Oriya)
Paruppukkirai (Tamil)
Pappukura (Telegu)
Chandanbethu (Bengali)
Kaduoma (Kannada)
Vastuccira (Malayalam)

Chakvit (Konkani)


  1. Nice to see this humble plant, which also grows plentifully in the ?UK on waste ground and roadsides. We have some round the edges of our vegetable plot. Here, it's called "Fat Hen". and also traditionally animal food. however, it has been known to have a toxic effect on people who ate it a lot (every day- they could get very little else) during the war, as it contains lots of oxalic acid. I love to pick a few leaves and eat them raw from time to time.

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  3. It very nice to know evincing keen interest to cultivate it.

  4. Informative, well-compiled article.

  5. Thanks for the detailed information, though plenty available around never bothered to add in our menu, but from now onward no ignorance about this green vegetable.

  6. Excellent, I love this plant and cultivate it in my garden. I dry the leaves for winter use and sometimes grind the dried leaves into powder to make into'spinach' fettucine and add to pestos, too.

  7. Haven't seen any on my little acre in northern Maine, but I'll be looking!

  8. Thank you for this information about this wonderful plant.

  9. quilites de ceniza in Mexico. Cooking now.

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