Chestnut Herbal School

Lambs quarter is one of the most common weeds in gardens, backyards and fallow fields, following human habitation closely. If you add horse or cow manure to your garden you will have a steady supply of these tasty wild greens for most of spring and summer. Easy to recognize with its alternate, triangle-to-diamond shaped leaves which are coated on the underside with a whitish gray powdery meal resembling flour. This coating may sometimes possess a coppery-fuchsia sheen and is sold as a cultivar called “magenta spreen” in some garden catalogues. The coating is a natural part of the leaf and is fine to eat. Put a leaf under water and the meal will cause the water to bead up in a beautiful iridescent fashion. Lamb’s quarter grows to 3-5 feet and is a branching annual with a grooved stem which is often tinged with red, especially at the node, or leaf joint.

 Chenopodium album, the scientific name of Lambs quarter, translates to white goose foot and refers to both the white mealy covering and the leaves resemblance to the webbed foot of a goose. In the same family as quinoa, beets, spinach and chard, (the Chenopodiaceae), Lamb’s-quarter has been eaten in Europe and Asia since Neolithic times as evidenced by the seeds presence in archeological digs. Native to Eurasia, lambs quarter quickly followed the European settlers and was incorporated into the diets of the Native peoples of the Americas. Currently eaten in Japan, South Africa, Europe and the Americas, this cosmopolitan weed is appreciated by many cultures palates.  Its English name, fat hen, and its country name, pigweed, both refer to its use as a food for animals. (The name pigweed is also used for wild Amaranth – another common edible garden weed) There are several explanations for the origins of lambs- quarter’s name. One hypothesis is that the shape of the leaf is reminiscent of a cut of lamb meat, the quarter. Another theory is that a close relative of Lambs quarter, orache, was an integral part of the pagan harvest celebration on the first of August -Lammas Quarter.

 The tender top two inches are picked and steamed, sautéed or added to soups and have a flavor similar to its close relative, spinach. I like to make a tofu quiche every spring from the tender tops of nettles, wild amaranth and lambs-quarters. Rich in Vitamins A, C, B1 and B2; iron and protein, this nutrient dense green is worth letting be in the garden where it is not out-competing planted vegetables. I often let it grow in between tomatoes, okra or peppers when they are still young and don’t need as much space and pull the lambs –quarter as the veggies fill out. Lambs quarter requires no cultivation and is relatively disease and insect free. Compare this to many of our cooking greens in the mustard family such as collards and kale which require vigilant bug protection in the southeast. As I write this article my mustard family greens are riddled with holes from the flea beetle and the edible weeds such as lambs quarter are showing no signs of damage from the beetles, nor the drought. Rethinking our current cultures agriculture and culinary paradigms, we can adapt our tastes to the relative ease and nutrition of our weeds.

One last note about lambs quarter: like its close relatives spinach and chard, it contains oxalates and should be consumed lightly if a person has kidney stones, kidney disease or gout. If the diet is varied with many different vegetables, the oxalates are not a problem. Also, remember to never pick any wild greens close to a road or in heavily sprayed fields as the plants may accumulate heavy metals or toxic amounts of nitrates in these situations.

Some years ago I thought to bring some of my favorite wild edibles to the farmers market where we were selling organically grown vegetables. I set out pretty baskets filled with tidy bundles of pigweed (Amaranthus sp.), purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and Lambs quarter accompanied by little signs explaining the preparation and nutritional value of these tasty greens. I also thought a yummy sample of the greens would inspire people to move beyond any fears of eating an unknown vegetable, especially a “weed”. As it turns out we did not develop a wild following or even a tiny demand for our weeds, but people went crazy for the sample – wild greens pate. We ended up selling just as much wild greens pate as fresh salsa and pesto. Wild greens pate freezes well and works well where ever you would use pesto – tossed over veggies and pasta, as a base to a green or white pizza (no marinara) or as a dip for crackers, raw carrots and celery. Last week I made delicious green lasagna with wild greens pate and added more steamed lambs quarters instead of the traditional spinach.

Happy foraging and may your gardens be bountiful!

Wild Greens Pate

  • Sautee 3 chopped cloves of garlic in extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes in a deep pot
  • Add the washed tender tops of purslane, lambs quarters and pigweed (about 7 big handfuls)
  • Sautee until tender and add tamari or soy sauce to taste
  • Blend in a blender or food processor with more olive oil, nutritional yeast and your choice of raw nuts
  • Be creative with your ingredients – miso, freshly grated parmesan cheese and raw garlic are just some of the many ways you can put a little twist on this recipe.
  • Note: This recipe is still delicious even if you only have one of these wild greens. Nettles and lady’s thumbs are other wild greens which blend well with lambs quarters.

19 thoughts on “Lamb’s quarter

  1. WRONG~ “Native to Eurasia, lambs quarter quickly followed the European settlers and was incorporated into the diets of the Native peoples of the Americas.” While I agree that the C. album is a transplant you do a disservice to the Native species and their use by indigenous people. C. murale, C berlanderii and others are natives to this continent.

    • Sara Kinney says:

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention! It does look like C. berlandieri was cultivated by indigenous Americans before European settlers arrived. We’ll do some more research so that we can accurately amend the text. Do you have any sources that you recommend we refer to?

      • Here’s a good start: I would also look into your claims re Plantago major being introduced and then used by Indigenous peoples. The native plant is P rugelli, very similar in appearance to P major, except the seed head. I find these plants together at Pike’s Stockade here in Colorado, indicating that Pike’s expedition may have carried the P major seed. Another transplant is Portuluca olearcea. The Native P retusa is rarely found now.

          • You need to check out Chenopodium californicum as well, called Indian Lettuce. All Chenos have an amount of saponin in the roots, and this particular species is noted for that.
            It rankles me to no end how herbalism has been colonized, as if Indigenous people had no plant wisdom. You should know the Chenopodiaceae family is quite large and eaten/used world wide, even the despised Russian Thistle, Salsola tragus.

  2. Kristen Blaylock says:

    Oh, my goodness! I just fed a whole bunch of lambs quarters, kudzu and nettles to my bunnies! They loved it! Maybe I’ll try making that curried dish that the poster above made! We love curry! Thanks for the article!

  3. thank you for the info. I ate the young greens at my ex-husband’s house but never knew much about them. Now I know they are ok when they get older.
    At my grandfather’s old house there were these little greens with heads on top we called tea berries, but we never made tea from them. I hope I find what they are and what they are good for.

    Thank you,

    • Yes! Lamb’s quarters transplants easily. Just be aware that if you let it go to seed, it will freely self-sow throughout the garden. That might be a good thing if your space if barren! You can let it grow between your veggies and just pull it up when the veggies start to fill in.

  4. Felicia Sdova says:

    Enjoyed article. I grow both lambs quarters and purslane wild and we use purslane to make my husbands favorite Mexican dish called “verdolagas”. Purslane is found in most Mexican markets. Thanks for the info on lambs quarters. I won’t be pulling it as much anymore…

  5. Great article, i knew we used to eat Lamb’s quarter in South Asia but i wasn’t sure if the weed growing in my garden was the same type or a wild species. I picked a bunch of Lamb’s quarter and made delicious curry. Thanks for all this nice explanation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>