Lamb’s Quarter

I hope you all enjoyed seeing Pascal and Mia on KCET. Here is some information about lamb’s quarter, a plant that they – and I – use often.

Lambs quarters is a spinach relative that is common worldwide. And just like Rodney Dangerfield, lambs quarter rarely gets the respect it deserves.

In fact, it is typically regarded as an agricultural pest and an urban weed. Gardeners pull it up and poison it and throw it into the trash can. This is another example of our culture’s chosen ignorance because lamb’s quarter is possibly the most nutritious green plant you can eat! We have this mistaken notion that anything really good must come from China or Tibet or a Brazilian rain forest. Since lamb’s quarter is in everyone’s backyard, we hardly notice it — unless we’re without money.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of lamb’s quarter leaf contains 4.2 grams of protein, 309 mg. of calcium, 72 mg. of phosphorus, 80 mg. of vitamin C, and a remarkable 11,600 International Units of vitamin A.

Even if you’re not concerned about the vitamin and mineral content, you’ll find that lamb’s quarter is a delicious, hearty plant that can be used in many dishes. Lamb’s quarter is the one wild food that I eat nearly every day.

Generally, you use lamb’s quarter in any way that you’d use spinach. Lamb’s quarter leaves can be picked and added to green salads. The flavor is similar to spinach. The leaves can also be steamed as you’d steam spinach, and then seasoned with butter or herbs. Most of your guests won’t detect that they’re not eating spinach.

Lamb’s quarter leaves can be added to soups, stews, omelettes, bread batter, and even quiche. The leaves can be steamed, and cheese grated over the top before serving. The tender stems can be steamed, and served as you’d serve asparagus or string beans.
The small black seeds are also an excellent protein source, and they are related to the white quinoa seeds sold in many markets.

As lamb’s quarter goes to seed and dies back, you can easily collect the seeds. I generally rub my hand along the stem and collect the seeds into a large salad bowl. When all the seeds are dry, I rub them all between my hands, and blow off the chaff until I am left with only the black seed. These seeds are then added to bread batter, pancake and biscuit batter, and soups.

(Incidentally, both the quinoa and the related amaranth seed were highly-prized in old Mexico by the Aztecs and Maya. Because these seeds were so nutritious, they were regarded as sacred, and were mixed with blood or honey during Holy Days, shaped into the shapes of their gods and eaten. The Spanish invaders saw this as not only idolatry, but also as a mockery of their Holy Communion, and banned the growing of quinoa and amaranth. Yet, the plants have survived.)

This is such a common urban plant world wide that no hobo or homeless person should ever go hungry where lamb’s quarter is found. It grows in parks, in back yards, in fields and farms, around barns, in vacant lots, along railroad lines, and often in the wilderness areas along trails. If you don’t pull this plant up when it appears in the spring, you can have a year-long supply of the greens.

Lamb’s quarter is easily recognized by its roughly toothed leaves that are somewhat triangular in shape. The leaves are covered with a fine white mealiness which causes water to bead up on the leaf surface. The older stems often have red stripes and red in the axils.

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