“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yesterday (or "wild food Wednesday" as we were calling it) was rich with foraged foods. Nettle and raspberry leaf tea, a batch of garlic mustard and chickweed pesto, some tangy, crispy dock chips, and finally chickweed and lambsquarter spring rolls.
I was in my bliss.
Because honestly. What's not to love about free, nutrient-rich food?
After all that deliciousness, I thought it was time to bring you another post in the Wonderfully Wild series.
The goal of Wonderfully Wild is to share with you some thoughts on using wild, foraged plants in your family's meals and medicines. Plants that offer us so much more than their cultivated counterparts!
This series is written in real-time as the season unfolds. Nothing overwhelming or too technical, but just some simple herbs and roots and fruits you can enjoy to get your feet wet (sometimes literally!) with wild edibles and medicinals.
Today I'll be talking about a plant that is not a wild medicine, but a delicious and nourishing wild food: lambsquarters.
Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
Lambsquarters are a common (often annoying) weed in garden and field.
Gardeners will recognize it as a quick plant taking root almost overnight in tilled soil, forming a smothering carpet of dusty green leaves in a short time. Left to grow, lambsquarters will quickly grow to knee-high then waist high and beyond.
So what's so great about this pesky plant?
It's a nutrient-powerhouse.
Seriously. If only tame plants contained nutrition like this!
Think spinach, but better. Super-spinach if you will. Spinach in tights and a cape.
And cooked up with a lot of butter and a little salt? You can't beat this delicious, free, nutritious green.
Lambsquarters' nutritional benefits are many. If you're pulling lambsquarters in your spinach field, you might consider letting a patch go wild and harvest it instead!
Lambsquarters is significantly higher than spinach in many nutrients.
- vitamin C
- vitamin A
It is also high in iron, though not so high as spinach.
To identify lambsquarters in the field we'll look for it's key distinguishing characteristics. Use the photographs above as a guide.
Leaves: Because of the shape of the leaves, lambsquarters is nicknamed "goose foot". The goose foot (or pyramid to diamond-shaped) leaves are irregularly toothed and emerge alternately on the stem. (This means rather than each leaf presenting with another leaf growing directly across from it on the stem, these leaves appear to take turns marching up the stem. A leaf on side, then a bit further up the plant a leaf on the other).
Leaf texture: The leaf texture is a key characteristic for proper id. The leaves are covered in a white or pinkish-purple bloom that gives them a soft, slightly velvety appearance.
This bloom is most pronounced at the terminal (top) end of the plant and on the young emerging leaves. As the leaf grows the bloom diminishes.
Looking at the underside of the leaf you will find the bloom is thicker than on the top, giving it an ashy or pale appearance.
Stem: Stem is ridged and pinkish-purple at the base.
Growth: Lambsquarter seeds are spread by wind. While each seed grows into a single stem, It is not uncommon to see large swaths of lambsquarters completely covering the ground (as in the lighter green photo above).
Look-alikes: When leaves are wet, jewelweed and lambsquarters both repel water in a similar gem-like fashion. But their leaf texture and shape is quite distinct.
Cook it up! Lambsquarters is the perfect green for most any cooked recipe. Because it contains a fair amount of oxalic acid, lambsquarters should be cooked before eating.
Harvest by pulling the whole plant or simply breaking off the tops. (The younger leaves are more tender and tasty, but you can harvest older leaves throughout the year. I tend to avoid the more tattered, aged leaves at the bottom of the plant.) If pulling I like to break off the soil-covered taproot and bottom portion of stem and leave behind to keep my leaves clean.
Back home, pick leaves off of stem and rinse well in cold water to remove any soil. (I leave the smallest leaves behind to save time.) Saute in butter with a bit of salt and garlic and eat.
So. Darn. Good.
Bear in mind that many wild plants do have a different texture or mouth-feel than tame ones. If you are unsure at first, give it time. Your palate will soon adjust. And you'll be so glad.
What other wild plant friends are you eager to learn about?