This month we have been enjoying a daily dose of the wild edible weed known as Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album). Yes, I said weed. However, once upon a time, this annual weed received more respect. Prior to the introduction of spinach from Southeast Asia, lambs quarters were the go-to-greens. They are a genuine super-food high in Vitamins A and C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, manganese, potassium and iron. In fact, they contain more iron and protein than raw cabbage or spinach, more calcium and vitamin B1 than raw cabbage, and more vitamin B2 than cabbage or spinach. According to Joan Richardson’s Wild Edible Plants of New England, lambs quarters “even outclasses spinach as a storehouse of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, and great amounts of vitamin A, not to mention all the minerals pulled out of the earth by its strong taproot.”
The shapes of its leaves are varied. Young leaves tend to resemble a goose-foot, hence the Genus name Chenopodium while older top leaves are more diamond or triangular in shape. A dusty or talcum-powder appearance is often visible and acts as a natural water-repellent on the leaves. The top two inches of the plant are the tenderest and its taste is similar to chard or spinach.
Steaming this wild edible is one way to consume it, but it is also delicious added to soups, sautés, salads and smoothies. When consuming lambs quarter raw, it is wise to eat small to moderate quantities because it contains oxalic acid. However, when cooked this acid is completely broken down, so eat with abandon when it is cooked.
As you begin to forage for this wild edible on your own, there are some good rules to live by. Only harvest what you need, plenty of other critters enjoy this plant in the wild too. Lambs quarters absorb nitrates readily so only harvest in soils that have not been treated with pesticides or artificially treated in any way. Lastly, beware of turpentine-smelling lookalikes. Safe to eat lambs quarters do not emit a bad smell when you crush its leaves between your fingers.
Michael Pollan is one of my favorite food writers. He is often heard advocating for Americans to eat more wild botanicals. In his book, In Defense of Food, he calls lambs quarters and purslane, “two of the most nutritious plants in the world.”
Roasted Lambs Quarters
2 cups (soft) lamb’s quarters stems chopped into pieces (about 6cm long)
2 tbsp. olive oil (or oil of your choice, flax seed is good)
Spices (as many as you like)
2-3 sliced garlic cloves or garlic powder
Wash the lamb’s quarters stems and place into a bowl. Add the oil and spices and blend well.
Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and evenly spread the stems on the sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake at 350 degrees F until crispy (or to your liking). As some ovens differ in heat distribution, ten minutes may be sufficient depending on thickness of the stems. Check frequently to avoid burning them.
Tailor spices to your taste preference.
When cooked crispy, roasted lamb’s quarters can be broken and added to salads or soups for extra flavor!