Lamb’s Quarters - Chenopodium album
an article by Susun S. Weed
told the new apprentice we were having lamb's quarters
"I won't have any. I'm a vegetarian," she replied.
With a smile, I corrected myself. "Some people call
it fat hen."
"I don't eat chicken either," she responded with
"It's also called goosefoot," I countered, suppressing
"Not goose, not even the feet, do I eat," she said
And I agreed, "Pigweed is a more common name for
"No matter what kind of animal it is, I am NOT going
to eat it," she stated firmly, her eyes shining
with fervor and unshed tears.
I confessed, now openly laughing. "It's a weed.
A plant. A cooked green!"
Whatever you call it, Chenopodium album and its
edible sisters - there are dozens of useful species
- is a versatile weed that offers incredible amounts
of nourishment to those who harvest it instead of
cursing it. It is one of the most widely distributed
plants in the world, tolerant of poor soils, high
altitudes, and minimal rainfall. Global warming
is just fine with lamb's quarters. In higher concentrations
of carbon dioxide, it grows almost double in size.
And that's good news for those who are in the know
about its benefits. The young, tender leaves of
lamb's quarter are tasty in salads. The older leaves,
stripped from their stalks and cooked in a small
amount of water for thirty minutes or more, are
a rich and tasty bone-building green. Left to mature,
lamb's quarter plants produce copious amount of
protein-rich seeds which are easy to harvest and
use. The roots are used as medicine.
The goosefoot family (cheno is goose, pod is foot)
includes lamb's quarters, quinoa, spinach, red beets,
sugar beets, and Swiss chard (silver beet). Indigenous
peoples all over the world have made use of wild
goosefoots and cultivated them, too. Chenopodium
seed stores have been found in many European Neolithic
ruins. They were in the ritual meal fed to the Tollund
Man 2000 years ago in Denmark.
In North America, Blackfoot Indians used the seeds
as early as 1500CE, while both lamb's quarter greens
and the seeds are firmly embedded in the cultures
and meals of the Navajo, the Pueblo, all the tribes
of Arizona, the Diggers of California, and the Iroquois.
In South America several tamed wild goosefoots have
been created: Chenopodium quinoa and canahua for
their nutritious seeds; huauzoutte for its delicious
I am especially fond of lamb's quarter greens cooked.
A half-cup serving (110 grams) contains over 300
mg of calcium (Swiss chard has 88g, spinach 93g)
and 11,600 IU of vitamin A activity. (Swiss chard
has 6500, spinach 8100.) Lamb's quarter greens are
also an excellent source of B vitamins, especially
riboflavin and folic acid. And they are more than
four percent protein. Lamb's quarter leaves enrich
plants as well as people. Bio-dynamic farmers dry
them and combine with equal parts dried dandelion,
nettle, purslane, sage, and chamomile to make a
special plant food for the autumn garden.
Depending on where you live, it may be too late
to enjoy lamb's quarters greens right now. Lamb's
quarters is an annual, so it doesn't last long once
it has put out its tiny green flowers. But you can
probably still harvest lamb's quarter seeds. I harvest
protein- and mineral-rich lamb's quarter for seed
in September and early October here in the Catskills.
I cut the plants low to the ground and immediately
put them heads down - in paper bags.
When I have harvested all I want, I lay fresh paper
or an old sheet on the floor, take the plants out
of the paper bags, and hang them - still heads down
- above. The seeds that fall out as the plants dry
are easy to collect. I use my hands to release the
seeds that don't fall out. I dehydrate the seeds
in a very slow oven (110F), let them cool completely,
then store them, chaff and all, in a tightly sealed
I cook lamb's quarter seeds in with any grain that
I make, such as brown rice, kasha, even quinoa.
I stir lamb's quarter seeds (and nettle seeds and
plantain seeds) into my morning oatmeal when I put
it up to boil. I sprinkle lamb's quarter seeds in
pancakes and muffins and cornbread. I add lamb's
quarter seeds to soups, sautéing them with the onion
at the beginning of the soup making. I throw lamb's
quarter seeds into my tomato sauce, where they add
so much flavor and protein that some people swear
I've used meat in my sauce.
Lamb's quarter seeds are totally safe to eat, but
there are two cautions to keep in mind when eating
lamb's quarter leaves. All edible plants in this
family - including spinach and chard - concentrate
oxalic acid in the leaves. And oxalic acid can interfere
with calcium utilization unless eaten with a good
source of calcium, such as cheese or yogurt, at
the same meal. The roots of lamb's quarter search
out and concentrate nitrogen (protein). Plants growing
in fields that have been heavily fertilized (with
chemical fertilizers) can contain large amount of
nitrites and nitrates. Fertilized plants have harmed
livestock and, theoretically, could harm us.
Green blessings are all around you. And a gardener's
best revenge is to eat the weeds, especially lamb's
Lamb's quarter leaves are so mineral-rich that they
can be used alone as a salt substitute. But adding
aromatic herbs enlivens the taste. Adding seaweed
not only makes this herb salt salty, it increases
the nutritive benefits.
1 part dried lamb's quarter leaves
1 part dried thyme or rosemary
1 part dried dill or celery leaves
1 part dried marjoram or oregano
2 parts dried seaweed (Nereocystis kelp is the best)
Gently toast seaweed in a cast iron skillet until
very crisp. Grind each herb in a coffee mill while
seaweed cools. Then grind seaweed and combine with
ground herbs. Store in a shaker. Zuni Steamed Dumplings
From Carolyn Niethammer's American Indian Food and
Lore (c. 1974). An easy and delicious wild food
addition to any casserole, stew or soup.
Combine 1/2 cup cold water and 1/2 cup cornmeal
with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add slowly to 1 1/2 cups
boiling water. Cover and thicken over low heat.
Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup ground lamb's quarter
seeds. Form into small balls. Place on a rack over
boiling water and steam for 15-20 minutes, or until
done. Add to a casserole, stew, or soup and cook
gently for another half hour before serving.
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Susun S. Weed is the author of four highly-acclaimed
books on herbs and women's health: Wise Woman Herbal
for the Childbearing Year, Healing Wise, New Menopausal
Years the Wise Woman Way and Breast Cancer? Breast
Health! the Wise Woman Way. Ms. Weed lectures world-wide
on women's health and herbal medicine. From her
home in New York State's Catskill Mountains, she
directs the activities of the Wise Woman Center,
acts as editor-in-chief of Ash Tree Publishing,
personally oversees the work of 400 correspondence
students, and trains herbal and shamanic apprentices.
Susun has lived the simple life for nearly 40 years
as an herbalist, goatkeeper, homesteader, and feminist.
She has been called "a true radical - deeply rooted,"
"a modern pioneer," and "one of the founding mothers
of herbal medicine in the United States†.