Lamb’s Quarters, Chenopodium album, is a wild green that contains more calcium than any other plant studied, according to botanist and author John Kallas. It’s also high in protein, vitamin A and vitamin C.
The leaves taste great raw or cooked. Many people compare it to a mild version of spinach. As a member of the Goosefoot family, it is botanically related to that common vegetable, as well as to Swiss chard, quinoa and beets.
Named for its habit of growing in barnyards, Lamb’s Quarters is an ancient food across the world. Anthropologists have recorded its use as a food in Europe as well as in North America by the Eskimo, Hopi, Cherokee and Navajo, and many other groups. A closely related species, Chenopodium berlandieri, is believed to have been one of the first crops ever cultivated on this continent thousands of years ago in the Mississippi basin.
Right now, you can harvest the greens of this plant. Later in the summer you can eat the seeds as a grain.
Look for Lamb’s Quarters growing in direct sunlight in rich, moist patches of soil. I don’t see it much in the local alleyways or roadsides, but it abounds in nature preserves in the city, and gardeners often find it in their planted rows. (I was munching it by the handful on the farm). To identify this plant, look for smooth (not hairy) light green leaves with a high-contrast whitish underside. They grow in an alternate pattern from the stem, which can be anywhere from a few inches high to seven feet tall.
Neat factoid: The leaves are coated with a kind of microscopic powder that makes water droplets bead up and roll off.
Learn more wild plants on the Search Plants! page.