Lamb’s Quarters – Chenopodium Album: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Quinoa of Wild Plants

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A relation of quinoa, lamb’s quarters is another wild edible and medicinal plant that likes to take over disturbed soil, like the plot you just tilled for your garden! It was a toss up between quinoa and wild spinach for the subtitle. But there are so many “spinach substitutes”!

This is the entry in Stalking the Wild Asparagus in which Euell Gibbons admits he was not enthusiastic about the use of Latin names when he first started foraging. I have seen many rants in every plant ID, herp ID, insect ID, etc., online group I am in. The reason he brought this up is that lamb’s quarters is called “pigweed”, but so are other unrelated plants elsewhere. This sort of thing is rampant with common names. Latin names are the only way to relay the exact plant with certainty. But if you’ve found it frustrating or been the recipient of an Internet flogging for complaining about Latin names – perhaps the fact that one of the most renown foragers in recent American history had a moment over this will be comforting! Keep on learning!

Lamb's Quarters - Chenopodium Album
Lamb’s Quarters – Chenopodium Album

Edible Uses of Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s quarters is related to spinach and it shows, it even tastes somewhat like spinach. Maybe with a hint of cabbage-ness. If spinach irritates your tongue, this may as well, or you may find the texture better.

The leaves can be eaten raw, in moderation. But they’re best cooked or steamed, even used in recipes as a spinach substitute. Pinch off the whole young plant (until about a foot tall) and use it for a potherb. You can pick new shoots and tender top parts off older plants to eat. The young buds can be used like broccoli.

The leaves can also be dried and stored for later use, even pressure canned. Smoothie lovers – this leaf is so nutritionally packed, it’s a go to for your foraged homemade green powders or blanched and frozen wild greens.

The seed is edible and can be sprouted, or used to make a porridge, whole or ground. Harvest after the heads turn brown and are drying out, late autumn or winter. Rub inside a paper bag to remove the chaff. Wash and soak the tiny dark seeds overnight to remove saponins.

The seeds can also be ground for flour. Mixing 1:1 with wheat flour makes a nice buckwhear/pumpernickle-y pancake. It’ll darken baked goods, but the flavor isn’t strong.

It’s been suggested to add the leaves to bean dishes to reduce the problem of flatulence.

Rich in vitamins C and A, and calcium. The seeds are high in protein.

Medicinal Uses of Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s quarters is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes, besides leaves for the typical astringent set of uses, the whole plant has been boiled into a spring tonic. But note the roots may effect a persons menstrual cycle.

Alternative Uses of Pigweed

A green dye can be obtained from the shoots.

The crushed roots can be used as a mild soap substitute for skin and hair.

And it makes a nice basis for a floral crown or necklace, especially handy to know if you’re instilling a love of plants in children. 🙂 Some other ideas for this include balsam sap boats, and Queen-Anne’s lace dyed bouquets.

Growing Chenopodium Album

Another one that will probably volunteer in your garden. If let loose, it’ll take over. Why not eat it as you pull it? And in some spots, why not let it go if you’re going to harvest? It’s easier to grow than spinach and gives the same perks if not better. In India it’s a widely cultivated green! But it’s not native, and not really a landscaping sort of plant to begin with.

I spent the last summer (2020) taking care of an elderly neighbor full time, and my garden fell by the wayside. My carrots and parsnips disappeared under the pigweed, but no worries – I get to harvest a tremendous amount of this wild quinoa type seed this autumn. Some plants have recorded upwards of 70,000 (albeit tiny) seeds! Here’s a picture of my lamb’s quarter garden, wind blown at the end of summer:

Lamb’s quarters gone wild!


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Stalking The Wild Asparagus (Field Guide Edition).

Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Eating Wild in Eastern Canada: A Guide to Foraging the Forests, Fields, and Shorelines

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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