Edible Wild Plants: Lamb’s Quarters – Don’t Weed It, Eat It!
Many vigilant gardeners unwittingly weed things out of their gardens that are just as delicious and nutritious – if not even more so- than the things that they hoe, plant, water and cultivate to eat! Take note of the wild delectable vegetable called lamb’s quarters, which is most often compared to spinach, and prepare to feast!
An Edible Treasure that Grows All Over the Place
Did you ever have something just bombard you through a dozen different sources all in the same timeframe? Well, that’s how it was for me and Lamb’s Quarter. I had read about it in a briefing done on wild edibles, so surprised that I hadn’t known about this treasure which was growing all over the place and wondering how it had escaped me so long! Then I began chatting with people and one was making a lamb’s quarter soup, another some salad, one woman was eating it out of her flower beds as she weeded! It seemed to be like it is when you get a new car – I was spotting it and hearing about it everywhere! It’s supposed to be fabulous steamed with some chicken broth and crispy bacon with a little vinegar added.
A Great Addition to Any Salad
So, I decided to head out and do a photo shoot on it and gather some up for a dinner salad. Let me say – it is very nice! Mild tasting, a bit reminiscent of cabbage and an excellent addition to mixed greens when you gather it young. As you might expect, when the plant is older it is tougher and not so mild to taste…
The seeds are tedious to harvest I’m told, but a great addition to flour mixes when soaked, rinsed, dried and ground up. Supposedly as many as 70,000 seeds have been counted from one single plant. (Now I wonder what crazy person did the counting??) I want to try to add some to my gluten free boule recipe to get the classic pumpernickle aspect. Wait until the seeds turn black to collect them. To collect the seeds, you’d stick the seed heads into a bag and shake the seeds out – or if you have a lightweight bucket or tub, you could bend them into the tub and shake, moving from from plant to plant. That’s my plan.
After you collect your gazillions of seeds, (and have grown in your exercising of patience!) you will want to soak the seeds in water overnight, rinse thoroughly to remove the saponins (yup, you could save the water to add to your washing) and then dry them either in an oven or dehydrator at no more than 180 degrees. When thoroughly dried, grind in a food mill for flour, thickener or to use as a morning gruel.
Uses and Preparations
Many will tell you not to eat Lamb’s Quarter because it contains oxalic acid. This is a chemical substance found in plants that can cause kidney stones. It binds with calcium and iron and inhibits their absorption. This is a concern for those who like to eat raw veggies and greens as I do. Supposedly, lightly steaming is enough to neutralize the oxalic acid found within. Other vegetables that contain oxalic acid are spinach, rhubarb, Brussels sprouts, broccoli,, carrots, collard greens, Swiss chard, parsley, lettuce, radishes, red currants, Concord grapes, tangerines, figs and plums as well as many nuts, grains and seeds. As people did in bygone eras, soaking the nuts, grains and seeds neutralizes the destructive acids in them, but as for the rest – just eat in moderation and vary what you consume. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.
Another aspect of this plant is that it concentrates nitrates in the leaves – which it pulls from the soils (think:fertilizer). If you have horses or other livestock, this can be a problem for them, as well as humans. Some soils are low in nitrates, so it is not an issue. Another issue with the leaves pulling in from nitrites is that it can form into a type of cyanide! Yikes! But be of good cheer- this type of cyanide, hydrogen cyanide, has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion and is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, (always eat ANYthing in moderation!) however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.
Vitamins and Minerals
All in all, this maligned plant has amazing nutritional properties. One ounce of it provides 65% of RDA of vitamin A as beta carotene and 37% of vitamin C. It’s high in manganese, calcium and copper, B vitamins, potassium, iron and protein. That’s a really good mix of things! And of course, being a plant, you’ll enjoy some fiber.
Lamb’s Quarter, Chenopodium album, grows prolifically anywhere rich soil has been disturbed. To be sure, it is one plant that can be found just about anywhere in the US. This plant is also known as pigweed, as are a plethora of other weeds, so it’s best to get to know it by its Latin name. You can distinguish it by its matte blue-green finish, imbalanced diamond-shaped leaves with a mealy whitish coating on the undersides. The leaves are wavy-edged, maybe with some reddish-purple, either toothed or lobed directionally toward the point and have a waxy coating which prevents water from adhering to them. Lamb’s Quarters is sometimes called goosefoot (as is Amaranth) because the leaves do somewhat resembles the shape of a goose’s foot! You will note that it has a clusters of green flowers as well. Also The stems range in height from 1-3 feet, with a bit of reddish color at the base. I’ve actually read of them becoming so woody that they can be used as walking sticks! For eating purposes, you’ll want to look for plants around a foot high, when they’re still nice and tender, but even old plants can put out new, tender shoots.
Free Plant for Your Survival Garden
Lamb’s Quarters is not a perennial, but an annual that regrows from seeds dropped in the fall, so if you do collect seeds and enjoy the greens, you might want to be sure to let some fall to the ground. Also, during the season, especially in a survival situation, you can conscientiously pick only from the tops, leaving some nodes down lower and the plant will continue to grow out bushier and produce even more for you.
Of course, you could can plant them in a special bed somewhere like one might do with any herb. I’ve read of this weed being a prized treasure for depression era survivalists who made a point to cultivate it on purpose.
In researching this edible’s history, I really couldn’t find much except that it had been found in some ancient archeological digs, and bodies preserved by bogs in northern Europe,(ew!) so it’s been around awhile. From it’s prolific presence today, I expect it will be around for years to come! Enjoy!
Here are some recommended guides for finding wild edibles safely:
Disclaimer: Of course we claim no responsibility for your experience with these herbs. Everything we share is for information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. Do your own research! Always consult a professional. Be wise. Consider always the chance of an allergic reaction. We are all unique in body chemistry. We are NOT a medical professionals by any means, however we have saved our family a boatload of annoyance and money by being resourceful and using what is right at our feet – literally. See full disclaimer here.