Lambs Quarter – (Chenopodium berlandieri) can be used as a spinach substitute either by itself or mixed with other greens, it has a mild flavor.
Often cleared from the garden as a common weed, lambs quarter is an herbal goldmine. Along with dandelions, plantain, chickweed and violets, this herb is a valuable source of nutrition that has been relegated to "pest" status. This rich source of calcium doesn't bolt like lettuce and can be harvested all summer long. Lamb's quarters grows on roadsides, in ditches or anywhere the soil has been disturbed. The scientific name "Chenopodium" translates to mean "goosefoot" in reference to the shape of the leaves. This herb is grown as a commercial food crop in Mexico, and is related to epazote, which is used to season beans in Mexico and quinoa, the legendary grain used by the Incas. It is also related to a plant known as Good King Henry in Europe, which is used as a potherb. Instead of embracing this nutritious gift from the plant kingdom, lamb's quarter is considered an invasive weed in most parts of the United States.
From a distance Lambs Quarters always looks dusty, a deceptive trick due to a white powdery coating on the leaves. On closer inspection this powdery stuff proves to be quite a remarkable repellent: try washing the herb and you will notice that water simply beads and runs off. Thus rinsing it under running water can be a bit of a futile exercise, you have to actually submerge the entire herb and swish it around in order to wash it thoroughly. Luckily it is not the kind of herb you will often find encrusted with dirt - dirt seems to be removed from the plant's surface in much the same way as the water. However, insidious dirt, such as soil pollutants and artificial fertilizers pose a far greater threat. Lambs Quarters is a 'purifier herb' and in its effort to cleanse the soil, it absorbs these pollutants and concentrates them in its leaves. Thus foragers should be weary of patches where this plant grows in abundance - it could be an indication of soil pollution. At the very least you should investigate what gets dumped in nearby fields or streams. Another abnormality to watch for is a reddish hue on the leaves, which indicates that spinach leaf miner larvae are squatting in the foliage.
Lambs Quarters can be collected throughout the summer. The plants come up in late spring and while tender can be collected whole. As they get older, taller and tougher, restrict your harvest to the tender tops. Flowers and seeds are edible as well, so you can continue the harvest throughout the summer. The herb is best used as a spinach type vegetable in broth or as a green vegetable.
Key Medicinal Uses
Internally – Lamb's quarter is eaten to relieve stomach aches and to prevent scurvy. A cold herbal tea made from the leaves can be taken to treat diarrhea.
Externally – Lamb's quarter leaves can be used as a poultice to treat burns and swellings. It can also relieve itching.
Other Uses – Lamb's quarter is a rich source of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus and vitamins A, B2, C and Niacin. These nutrients are easily assimilated by the body by eating this herb. It can be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Excess leaves can be frozen for later eating.
Herbs to Combine/Supplement
Combine lambs quarter with other nutritious herbs in salads or with other greens to provide your body with nutrients it needs to maintain health.
Leaves – The leaf is the portion used from this plant.
Lambs quarter does contain oxalic acid, so don't eat excessive portions at one time, especially raw. If you have kidney problems, do not eat this herb. The crystals of oxalic acid can irritate weakened kidneys.