3 Herb Mamas

Wednesdays Weeds: LAMB’S QUARTERS

on May 14, 2014

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Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

Lamb’s Quarters is one of my favorite all-purpose greens for a variety of reasons, not least of which includes its wide and long availability through the summer. It’s popping up all over the garden and yard now and is under six inches tall but certainly big enough to toss into salads or other wild green mixes for cooking. Other common names include Goosefoot (Cheno=goose + podium=foot), Wild Spinach (spinach used to be classified in the Chenopodiaceae family but is now an Amaranthaceae member), Fat Hen, and Pigweed.

John Kallas, PhD in his book EDIBLE WILD PLANTS: Wild Foods From Dirt to Plate, calls Lamb’s Quarters, along with Chickweed, Mallow, and Purslane, a foundation green for its mild taste, which makes it suitable to use raw in salads or pesto, cooked in almost any dish calling for greens. Lamb’s Quarters is crazy good nutrition. Several sources, including BOTANY IN A DAY by Thomas J. Elpel say that it contains more calcium than any other plant ever analyzed. How much? One cup cooked contains 46% of the RDA for calcium but it doesn’t stop there. It also contains 281% of vitamin A, 111% of vitamin C, and 7% of the iron needed. It is also low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol and is a good source of niacin, folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, potassium, copper and manganese. Basically, it is a wild super food!

When I first learned to identify, gather, and enjoy Lamb’s Quarters decades ago I didn’t have all the resources in book form and online that are available today. But I did come across an Euell Gibbons book (STALKING THE WILD ASPARAGUS) that contained a wonderful little chart comparing the nutritional analysis of wild verses cultivated vegetables and fruits. When I saw the difference between Lamb’s Quarters and garden Spinach, and I gave the wild version a taste, I was completely sold. Spinach registers 56% of the RDA for vitamin A, 3% for calcium, 14% for vitamin C, and 4% for iron. That is when I first started using the term, which I think I invented, primary wild foods instead of “weeds”. We all know that commercial agriculture focuses on ship-ability and shelf-life over nutritional value and flavor. No where is this more apparent than in the difference between Lamb’s Quarters and Spinach. I do grow and enjoy Spinach but I probably eat even more of the wild version.

If you’ve eaten pesto, spinach lasagna, or spanakopita at my home you’re likely to have tasted the wild cousin of Spinach since I use that more often. It grows all summer and keeps me busy blanching and freezing it as well as eating it fresh. The fine crystalline powder on the upper leaves, which also appears on garden Spinach, is an identifying characteristic. This white, waxy ‘bloom’ is not present on the otherwise similar looking Hairy Nightshade and Ground Cherry Nightshade (Solanum physalifolium, S. sarracoides, S. villosum).

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Lamb’s Quarters in the Elecampane Patch

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Hairy Nightshade 

This plant has similarly shaped leaves but never a white ‘bloom’ and the flowers, of course, are drastically different.

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Lamb’s Quarters flower buds, which will later produce dark, shiny seeds

The seeds and the flower buds of Lamb’s Quarters are both edible but they need to be gathered at just the right stage and handled with care. The green leaves are the main way we enjoy this wild green. The possibilities for use are limited only by your culinary imagination but here are some images to spark ideas.

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Fillo pastry is a favorite way to make Wild Spinach Pies (Spanakopita or Hortopita), whether as one large pie or small individual ones.

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Wild Spinach/Lamb’s Quarters are a natural for summer salads

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We like to make pesto using wild greens like Lamb’s Quarters and use that in place of tomato sauce for a unique summer time wild green pizza.

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Sauteed as a green, a wild filling for burritos or crepes, added to fried rice…the possibilities abound. 

Enjoy! ~Leenie


2 responses to “Wednesdays Weeds: LAMB’S QUARTERS

  1. I think you’ve solved a great mystery for me– I think this is what was growing in my salad bed– I thought it was the Good King Henry seeds I planted last year (related I would guess) but not…. Hmmmm.

    • 3 Herb Mamas says:

      Yes, it is a Chenopodium as well. Good King Henry is Chenapodium bonus-henricus…what a cool name. I have read that in Europe it is also called “Poor Man’s Asparagus”.

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