Lamb’s Quarters, or Chenopodium album, is another plant that I have seen all over the place but was until very recently unaware of its edibility. I worked as a biological science technician and fire effects monitor for the National Park Service for about five and a half years. During that time I learned a ton about botany, though nearly all of it in the field. Most fire effects work is centered around how plants respond to both natural and prescribed fire in their environment–essentially what comes back and what doesn’t. We monitor these things to get a better handle on what effects we are getting when we put fire on the ground or let a natural fire run its course.
Chenopodium is one of many genuses of plant that I learned to recognize by gestalt during this time. It has a very recognizable leaf and I knew this one for a chenopodium for sure, and I have seen it all over my garden. But is this species of chenopodium the lamb’s quarters that I keep reading about?
This is the chenopodium that I have been picking out of my garden all spring:
After consulting a couple websites, I think we have a positive ID. This plant that I’ve been pulling and leaving to rot in between my vegetable rows turns out to be Chenopodium album, lamb’s quarters, pigweed, goosefoot, whatever you want to call it. It turns out to be pretty capable of living in poor soil and spreading itself quite widely, so there is probably some available near you as well. Which begs the next question, just how edible is this stuff?
The internet tells me that this is one edible plant that you need to take a bit of care with. Every part of the plant is edible, but should also be consumed in relative moderation. The seeds contain a large quantity of saponins, which should be avoided in excess, and the leaves contain oxalic acid, so they too should be eaten in moderation. Cooking the leaves helps to break down the oxalic acid, so lamb’s quarters are probably better tossed into a saute than a salad (though a bit certainly won’t hurt you). It tastes a bit like spinach and contains plenty of vitamins to pad out your diet.
Habitat: You’ll find this guy everywhere. It is a weed. It will pop up in your garden, your lawn, maybe the sidewalk outside your house.
Description: Chenopodium has a specific look to it. Goosefoot is probably the most apt name. It is most recognizable by leaf shape and color. The plant grows on a thick stalk, with leaves spreading outward in all directions. The leaves near the top are smaller, but all of them have a dusty, whitish, glaucous appearance (think sage).
Once you’ve got it, chenopodiums are very easy to pick out. So, brush up on google images before you head out looking for this stuff. And once you’ve got a good bunch of it, check back for the wild greens omelette that will be my next post.