Lamb’s Quarters: Ancient and Tasty

My pal Jason holds a leaf of Lamb’s Quarters

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.

Image by B.C. Ministry of Agriculture

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.

21 thoughts on “Lamb’s Quarters: Ancient and Tasty

  1. Pingback: Sow Thistle: A Tasty Wild Green « First Ways

  2. First: I’m so happy I found your blog. It’s so very useful!

    Second: I was suspecting it’s edible, tasted it and thought it tastes good (well…leafy), I just never had a confirmation of that fact. So thank you for the info! I think I’m off to prepare a salad or something out of the fresh Lamb’s Quarters I spotted :D

  3. I suspect these would be a good candidate for lacto-fermenting using water, iodine free salt and whey. I have done this with wild grape leaves using just salt.

    • I no longer suspect. Made some lambs quarter and purslane kraut this summer. Being they were fermented weeds, it is to say there are two reasons for people who don’t know how good it is to stay away from it. That leaves more for me which is what I want. It doesn’t always work, but the more disgusting I can make it sound always gives me a reason to hope for seconds. I have been practicing making a face with a full mouth since its hard to speak at the same time. I hope they cannot unravel the paradox.

      one table spoon of iodine free salt and two cups of water somewhat adjusted to taste and consistency as a ratio but just to cover.

      Don’t see a lot of material out there on lacto fermenting weeds so..

      • I have not found much specifically on the usual weed suspects, but I can certainly recommend this.

        http://www.wildfermentation.com/

        So this year I tried lambs quarters and purslane which was really very rich tasting. Next spring I plan to try basewood leaves. Might try the more mild lettuce family too. I often shred dandelion crowns which tend to float to the top and settle out the grit. The bitterness is water soluble and the shedding also help make it very mild. So it might also be mild enough to try a fermentation.

        One way to get a feel for it is to just try sour kraut and and old brine pickle recipes.

        It was a good way to extend the leafy season well into summer. You could probably take this all the way to winter with high salt to slow the ferment, along with coolness, which can then be diluted later of course.

        So I would certainly add it to the preservation arsenal along with drying, canning and freezing.

  4. The easiest way to remove this weed is a batter of water and flour, along with any spices one might like, and sauté it in a little oil. Its hard to completely coat it until you realize that don’t matter.

    • In response to where to find the protein: I don’t know. I would have to do some more looking around on the internet or elsewhere, and I just don’t have the time right at the moment. But I have read in a couple of places though that the leaves contain complete protein.

  5. Nice one Becky :)

    They call this fella ‘fat hen’ in the UK, apparently because chickens like it lots. PFAF recommend not eating too much of it raw because of the saponin content (removed by cooking or soaking).

    I’ve heard it needs disturbed/cultivated soil to germinate, and as such acts as one of the ‘first aid’ plants helping to heal the soil and restart the process of succession. My experience bears this out – last year, if you remember, I saw loads of it growing on a field that had previously been churned into mud by horses; this year (the second left to its own devices) I haven’t seen a single one in the same area. I read that up to 50% of the seeds lying dormant in European soils belong to fat hen. Of course, from the farmer’s perspective this makes it a tenacious enemy – Wikipedia note that ‘It is one of the more robust and competitive weeds, capable of producing crop losses of up to 13% in corn, 25% in soybeans, and 48% in sugar beets at an average plant distribution.’ For the same reasons I consider it a valuable ally! Also:

    Chenopodium album is vulnerable to leaf miners, making it a useful trap crop as a companion plant. Growing near other plants, it attracts leaf miners which might otherwise have attacked the crop to be protected. (Wikipedia, ibid.)

    I grew some from seed this year (seedlings taste quite good just by themselves) and planted them out in the garden border, and I think this is exactly what happened! Lots of them have lost their leaves, while beans, courgettes, chicory, onions on behind this ‘front line’ have so far been left untouched. Slight bummer, because I was growing the fat hen as a potential crop too!

    You say that ‘you can eat the seeds as a grain’ – have you tried this or seen a decent how-to guide? I still have a large bag of seed gathered from the same horse field, but am not sure what to do with it – whether you need to separate the chaff and, if so, how on earth to go about doing that…

    best wishes,
    Ian

    • Ian, good to hear from you again. Thank you for sharing such wonderful info.

      I have not eaten Fat Hen seeds as a grain, but I read what Sam Thayer writes in “The Forager’s Harvest” about it. He says he knows people who eat it with the chaff attached because it’s a pain to remove. He does separate it though because it’s indigestible. “I think you could eat all the unseparated goosefoot grain you want and still starve,” he writes. He says he uses a primitive winnowing style — he rubs his hand together to separate the chaff out. He writes that he doesn’t know of a faster method but suspects someone’s invented one because it’s so tedious. Hope that helps!

  6. Lamb’s quarter stores well in the freezer. My mother would blanch it first for 30-60 seconds in boiling water followed by immediately cooling it in ice water. Either put it in freezer bags or better yet vacuum seal it then put it in your freezer. It’ll last until the next season.

    • Merriwether,

      Do you know why she blanched it first rather than simply putting it in the freezer directly? I’m curious.

      • Blanching destroys the naturally-occurring enzymes which break down the cell walls after the plant dies. All plants contain these enzymes and they are slowed down but not stopped by freezing. Blanching prevents these enzymes from functioning so they don’t break down the cell walls so the plants stay preserved (firmer, less mushy) longer.

  7. Good info, Digital Footprint.

    And when you get that booklet finished it needs to go up on the web somewhere. Let me know if you need a site to host it.

    And as always, another useful post, Rebecca. Keep ‘em coming.

  8. Thanks for doing this webiste! I started making a booklet to help identify the plants all around us about 2 years ago, inspired by your internet postings and your experiment in trying to live off of just the plants and stuff all around. You may remember that I tried to email you the booklet when it was finished, but it wouldn’t email. I still don’t know why. But lately I have been reworking it and will try to send it to you again when it is finished.

    Anyhow, I have just recently been learning about lambsquarters, so I thought I would comment here. I read that it is actaully a source of “complete” protein, meaning it has some of the amino acids (such as Lysine) that aren’t as commonly found in plant foods.

    So anyways, thanks for your efforts.

    • Thanks for your hard work. I think maybe what happened was the file size of the booklet may have exceeded what gmail would accept. I like Tom’s idea of posting it online, if you’re interested, because then maybe a lot of people all over could download it.

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