Lamb’s quarters, also called goosefoot, is probably the most prevalent “weed” in this area. It only grows in bare soil, making farms and gardens ideal locations. I spent hours and hours at every farm job I’ve had pulling this persistent plant out of the ground. But then one day, that all changed. A woman came up to us as we were putting lamb’s quarters in our composting bucket and said, “Hey, did you know you can eat those? If you aren’t going to I’ll take them!” After that day, I’ve cooked with lamb’s quarters numerous times and never looked at the “weed” the same.
This plant comes up in late spring and remains until the fall. It is an annual that grows quite tall, around 5 feet, if not pulled early. It has ridged stems that are reddish green and alternate leaves. Most leaves are diamond shaped with toothed margins, but younger ones at the top are elliptical with smooth edges. Many plants have a white powder on the bottom of their leaves.
The small green flowers, blooming from mid summer to fall, are arranged in spikes at the end of branches. Eventually dark seeds are formed inside these flowers.
Nutrition and Medicinal Qualities
Lamb’s quarters is extremely rich in beta-carotene, iron, calcium, and potassium. It also contains high levels of phosphorus, copper, manganese, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, K, and B. The plant is 24% protein and has many amino acids.
In addition to its great nutritional value, lamb’s quarters has been used medicinally as a tea to treat stomach aches and diarrhea. Crushed up and applied to the skin, it can relieve burns, itches, and inflammation.
One warning of this plant is that it contains high levels of sodium. It also has oxalic acid, and so should not be eaten raw in large quantities .
Harvesting and Preparation
When lamb’s quarters is young, the entire above ground plant is edible. The stems and leaves can be eaten raw, steamed, or sautéed. After the plant matures the older parts will be too tough, but the tender leaves on top can still be picked and prepared the same way. Lamb’s quarters is related to spinach, tastes similar, and can replace it in any recipe.
The black seeds, although laborious to cook, are edible and very nutritious. Harvest the seeds in late fall after they have matured and dried in the field. First dry the seed clusters if they are still moist. Then the seeds must be separated from the chaff by rubbing in your hands and then winnowing, which is difficult because the seeds are so light. After this is done they can be boiled the same way you would cook any other grain. You can also grind them and cook them as a mush.
Lamb’s Quarters Spread (from The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small red onion, peeled
2 cups lamb’s quarters leaves
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cup walnuts
1 6-ounce jar pitted olives, drained
3 tablespoons hedge mustard leaves or seedpods
2 tablespoons mellow (light-colored) miso
1 tablespoon chili paste or 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1. Chop the garlic in a food processor or by hand. Add the onion and chop.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and process or chop until finely chopped. Lamb’s Quarters Spread will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days.
Makes 2 1/2 cups
Tempeh and Lamb’s Quarters (from The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-size onion, chopped
Two 8-ounce packages tempeh, cut into thin strips or squares
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon dried basil, finely crumbled
1/8 teaspoon crushed pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown rice vinegar
4 cups lamb’s quarters leaves
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring, until it is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the tempeh, garlic, ginger, basil, red pepper, soy sauce, and vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tempeh is light brown on both sides.
2. Stir in the lamb’s quarters, cover, and cook until the lamb’s quarters are wilted, about 5 more minutes. Serve hot, over rice, if desired.
Serves 4 to 6.