You’ve most likely ripped this plant out of your garden hundreds of times with a little snarl on your face and then felt good about it. Truth be told, you’ve been wrenching one of the most edible and nutrient-packed plants in your entire garden right out of the ground and tossing it in the compost bin. This “weed” you’ve been battling is called “lambsquarters” and it’s a first cousin to spinach and chard, but much better for you.
Just a half-cup serving of the leaves have more than three times the calcium of the same amount of spinach or chard and twice the vitamin A. They’re also loaded with B vitamins like riboflavin and folic acid and as muscle builders, they have more than four percent protein and more iron than cabbage.
This wild plant is a forager’s delight and is best harvested by snipping off new growth leaves and stems. The plant’s leaves have a robust, earthy taste but when even briefly steamed or stir-fried in olive oil, they’re shockingly good. You might not enjoy a salad purely of lambsquarters but toss the raw leaves in with other greens and salads with abandon and know that you’re adding something great to your diet.
Lambsquarters plants grow four to six feet tall in the best of conditions and a single plant may produce up to 80,000 seeds, so keep your plant well trimmed if you don’t want it to take over your garden plot. Another edible weed that looks much like the same plant is called Goosefoot and has a purplish tint to its leaves.
The weed’s genus name, Chenopodium album, is taken from the goose foot shape of the plant’s leaves, which resemble a spinach leaf. Lambsquarters are commonly called white goosefoot, tree spinach, meal weed or pig weed and have a characteristic white powdery coating. Livestock and wild animals gobble up the new growth leaves and stems but avoid the woody stems and mature leaves.
If the plant isn’t volunteering in your garden, it can be easily found in places where the soil has been disturbed, like cultivated fields, building sites and even road sides and creek banks. Young seedlings are easily transplanted in the spring and the plant’s prolific seeds germinate from May through October.
The best way to rid your garden of this evasive weed is to just eat it! Lambsquarters is as good for the soil as it is for your body, so collect and compost it into your soil and it replenishes nitrogen-depleted garden spots.