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Lamb's Quarters ~ Chenopodium album

by Susun Weed

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I told the new apprentice we were having lamb's quarters for dinner.
"I won't have any. I'm a vegetarian," she replied.
With a smile, I corrected myself. "Some people call it fat hen."
"I don't eat chicken either," she responded with a frown.
"It's also called goosefoot," I countered, suppressing a grin.
"Not goose, not even the feet, do I eat," she said with force.
And I agreed, "Pigweed is a more common name for it."
"No matter what kind of animal it is, I am NOT going to eat it," she stated firmly, her eyes shining with fervor and unshed tears.
I confessed, now openly laughing. "It's a weed. A plant. A cooked green!"

Whatever you call it, Chenopodium album and its edible sisters -- there are dozens of useful species -- is a versatile weed that offers incredible amounts of nourishment to those who harvest it instead of cursing it. It is one of the most widely distributed plants in the world, tolerant of poor soils, high altitudes, and minimal rainfall. Global warming is just fine with lamb's quarters. In higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, it grows almost double in size. And that's good news for those who are in the know about its benefits.

  * Both leaves and seeds are complete proteins, providing all the amino acids we need to repair tissues and thrive.

  * Both leaves and seeds are rich in minerals and vitamins, including 73% of DV for vitamin A in one cup of greens. It's is also a superb source of B vitamins. And it's loaded with useable iron.

  * Both leaves and seeds are rich in minerals and vitamins, including 73% of DV for vitamin A in one cup of greens. It's is also a superb source of B vitamins. And it's loaded with useable iron.

  * The young, tender leaves of lamb's quarter are tasty in salads.

  * The older leaves, stripped from their stalks and cooked in water — not too much and not too little; this is a green that soaks up water as it cooks — for 30-45 minutes, provide a rich and tasty bone-building green.

  * Left to mature, lamb's quarter plants produce copious amount of protein-rich seeds which are easy to harvest and use. No need to remove the chaff; it is tasty and edible. So are the tiny green flowers  

  * The roots contain saponins, those soapy substances which dissolve fat cells, cysts, and intestinal sluggishness.

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small leaved lamb's quarters

The Chenopodium or goosefoot family (cheno is goose, pod is foot) includes lamb's quarters, quinoa, spinach, red beets, sugar beets, and Swiss chard (silver beet).

Indigenous peoples all over the world have made use of wild goosefoots and cultivated them, too. Chenopodium seed stores have been found in many European neolithic ruins. They were in the ritual meal feed to the Tollund Man 2000 years ago in Denmark.

In North America, Blackfoot Indians used the seeds as early as 1500CE. Use of both lamb's quarter greens and seeds are firmly embedded in the cultures and meals of the Navajo, the Pueblo, all the tribes of Arizona, the Diggers of California, and the Iroquois.

In South America several tamed-wild goosefoots have been created:

  * Chenopodium quinoa and canahua for their nutritious seeds; sold as quinoa.

  * And Chenopodium huauzoutte for its exceptionally delicious, salty, mineral-rich greens.

I am especially fond of lamb's quarter greens cooked. A half-cup serving (110 grams) contains over 300 mg of calcium. (Swiss chard has 88g, spinach 93g.) And 11,600 IU of vitamin A activity. (Swiss chard has 6500, spinach 8100.) Lamb's quarter greens are also an excellent source of B vitamins, especially riboflavin and folic acid. And they are more than four percent protein.

Lamb's quarter leaves enrich plants as well as people. Bio-dynamic farmers dry them and combine with equal parts dried dandelion, nettle, purslane, sage, and chamomile to make a special plant food for the autumn garden.

Depending on where you live, it may be too late to enjoy lamb's quarters greens right now. Lamb's quarters is an annual, so it doesn't last long once it has put out its tiny green flowers. But you can probably still harvest lamb's quarter seeds. I harvest protein- and mineral-rich lamb's quarter for seed in September and early October here in the Catskills. I cut the plants low to the ground and immediately put them -- one by one, heads down -- into individual paper or plastic bags to prevent loss of the tiny seeds.

When I have harvested all I want, I lay fresh paper or an old sheet on the floor, take the plants out of the paper bags, and hang them -- still heads down -- above. The seeds that fall out as the plants dry are easy to collect. I rub my hands on the tops to release the seeds that don't fall out.

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Red Flowered Lamb's Quarters

Once I've collected the seeds, I dehydrate them completely in a very slow oven (110F) for about 10-15 minutes. Then I let them cool completely, and store in a tightly sealed glass jar with a little packet or two of silica dehydrant.

I cook lamb's quarter seeds in with any grain that I make, such as brown rice, kasha, even quinoa. I stir lamb's quarter seeds (and nettle seeds and plantain seeds) into my morning oatmeal when I put it up to boil. I sprinkle lamb's quarter seeds in pancakes and muffins and cornbread. I add lamb's quarter seeds to soups, sauteing them with the onion at the beginning of the soup making. I throw lamb's quarter seeds into my tomato sauce, where they add so much flavor and protein that some people swear I've used meat in my sauce.

Lamb's quarter seeds are totally safe to eat, but there are two cautions to keep in mind when eating lamb's quarter leaves.

1. Oxalis acid. All edible plants in this family -- including spinach and chard -- concentrate oxalic acid in the leaves. And oxalic acid can interfere with calcium utilization unless eating with a good source of calcium, such as cheese or yogurt, at the same meal.

2. Nitrates. The roots of lamb's quarter search out and concentrate nitrogen (protein), plants growing in fields that have been heavily fertilized (with chemical fertilizers) can contain large amount of nitrites and nitrates. Fertilized plants have harmed livestock and, theoretically, could harm us.

Green blessings are all around you. And a gardener's best revenge is to eat the weeds, especially lamb's quarter.

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