Let 'em Grow: Lamb's Quarters

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Posted by @dave on
This is one in a series of very short articles that will hopefully change your mind about some surprisingly good weeds. And even if your mind isn't changed, you'll still be well informed.

Plainly said, Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) is a weed. You probably already have it, or have had it. If you own land, you can probably walk around and given enough time searching, you can find it. Is it a native plant? Some say yes, others say it was imported long ago. We do know, however, that Quinoa, another species from the same genus as Lambsquarters, have been eaten in the Americas for thousands of years.

If you have this plant growing on your property, you have two choices when dealing with Lambsquarters: Love it or Curse it. I'm here to encourage you to choose the former.

Lambsquarters are easily grown "weeds" that have naturalized into pretty much every region of the world. They get tall - sometimes 8 feet high or more before they start leaning down from the weight of the seeds. They like full sun but are often found growing along wood edges where they receive part sun. The flowers and seeds are tiny, and are covered with little soap balls called saponins. These have a bitter taste and protect the seeds from being eaten by birds.

Being in the same family as spinach and amaranths, Lambsquarters produce edible leaves, which are most tender and flavorful when they are very small. The newly grown shoots are perfect for eating right in the garden. In many parts of the world, this plant is cultivated as a food crop.

Any new shoot that I see is fair game; I pinch off the tips and pop it right into my mouth to be eaten raw. The leaves can also be steamed or cooked in any way you would use spinach. But like spinach, it does contain good amounts of oxalic acid, which most experts agree contributes to a risk of forming kidney stones, so be aware of that. Don't go eating a whole plate full at once. Enjoy this delicacy in its season and in small quantities.

Another interesting fact about Lambsquarter is that it is a dynamic nutrient accumulator! This means that it sends its roots deep down into the subsoil where it mines important nutrients and brings them back up into its leaves and stems. So when Lambsquarter is growing, the soil is constantly being fed and improved thereby. Lambsquarter will accumulate and make available Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium and Manganese.

I have a very large patch of the stuff growing beside my orchard, and a few times each season I go down with my machete and harvest huge amounts of top growth, and then use those to mulch around my fruit trees and around the vegetable garden. As the material breaks down, all those nutrients that are concentrated in the top growth are then released and made available to my other plants. The plant grows in nearly any soil and in permaculture circles is considered a pioneer species. It will prepare the soil for even better and more suitable plants.

Another common name for this plant is "Fat Hen", and with good reason! Chickens absolutely love this plant and perform very well on a diet that includes it. Turning chickens out into a Lambsquarter infested area will produce some happy and healthy birds. We keep our chickens in pens, so our solution is to cut down the full size plants and throw them into the pens. The chickens know what it is and attack it with a vigor, eating every leaf, bud and seed, leaving only sticks behind by the end of the day.

So next time you see Lambsquarters, don't curse it, but rather appreciate its uses and start putting it to work for you.

Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Good Weeds by vic Jun 8, 2012 6:21 PM 22

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