This section is from the book "Wayside And Woodland Blossoms", by Edward Step. Also available from Amazon: Wayside And Woodland Blossoms: A Guide To British Wild-Flowers.
The genus to which this plant belongs consists of thorough weeds. Their habitat is waste places, usually where the soil is made up of man's refuse. The plants are fairly uniform in colour, from stem to leaf and flower. They are fertilized by the wind, so they have no need to put on showy colours to attract insects. The flowers are small, and the petals are entirely wanting; they consist of from three to five sepals, from two to five stamens ranged around the ovary, which is surmounted by the two or three spreading stigmas. Some are distinguished by unpleasant odours, and they have little to attract popular attention, although some have been used as potherbs - notably the species figured, and which rejoices in the alternative titles of "Good King Henry" and "All-good."
Mercury Goosefoot (C. bonus-henricus) is a perennial with a thick fleshy rootstock, and erect channelled stems from one to three feet in height. The leaves are large, dark green, and of the shape that botanists describe as "hastate," that is, like the head of an ancient halberd. These leaves are somewhat succulent, and in some places are used as a substitute for spinach. The ovary when ripe becomes what is technically known as a utricle, a thin loose case containing a single seed. In this species the seed is black, marked with small punctures. Flowers May to August.
All the other British species are annuals, and among them may be noted the Stinking Goosefoot (C. vulvaria), with spreading stems, small, greasy, mealy leaves, grey-green, and with an odour like rotten fish. Many-seeded Goosefoot (C. polyspermum), with several spreading branches, ovate leaves and many minute, rough, dark-brown seeds. White Goosefoot (C. album), leaves ovate, covered with a white mealy substance, upper portions toothed, sepals keeled, seed dark, shining, very minutely dotted. Red Goosefoot (C. rubrum), with erect, frequently red, stems, smooth and shining, leaves variable in form, and the character of the margin, sometimes toothed, sometimes entire, sepals not keeled. The name is from two Greek words, signifying Goosefoot, in reference to the shape of the leaves in some species.