Lamb’s quarters are most commonly seen as an invasive weed found in unkempt plots of land throughout Indiana. Most gardeners rip the plant from the dirt, roots and all and discard it into the weed pile mumbling annoyances under their breathe. Others scorn this behavior as wastefully discarding a valuable crop! There are also many who claim this plant is toxic and should never be consumed.
Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) are also known as goosefoot due to the distinct diamond shaped, ridged leaves which resemble a goose’s foot. They are easily identified not only by shape, but also the dusty white texture in the center of leaf clusters and red-violet tint to areas of the stem.
The problem is that there is no definitive or reliable information available on the safety of this potential food source. The FDA has contradicting information on the plant’s affect on pigs, but mentions nothing about toxicity to humans. One study claims that in “6 pigs fed C. album, neither clinical signs nor lesions (of perirenal edema, a disease found only in pigs and cattle) were seen.” Yet another FDA study claims “…feeder pigs… given access to …lamb’s quarters became ill 5 to 10 days later. The clinical signs were trembling, weakness, and incoordination of the hindquarters, followed by sternal recumbency, coma, and death.”
The University of Pennsylvania has a page which provides some details about the possible risks. It states, “Under certain adverse environmental conditions (drought) many weed and crop plants accumulate nitrate to potentially toxic concentrations.” Plants are exposed to nitrate found in fertilizers and contaminated water. Crops as common as corn, soybeans and oats are also at risk for this sort of contamination. This, combined with common knowledge about risks associated with eating unidentified wild plants, seems likely to be the source of fear behind the safety of consuming lamb’s quarters.
Advocates of the plant claim it is a great source for beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, Protein, Niacin, Folate, iron, B-complex vitamins, Vitamin A, vitamin C, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Thiamin, Riboflavin, and fiber and low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. Basically, it’s not just a super food, it’s the pimp daddy of all super foods.
The USDA’s web site lists lamb’s quarters in a document outlining fresh fruit and vegetable shipments under the category “greens,” right along with healthy veggies like cabbage sprouts, collard, and kale. It’s also delicious. The flavor is similar to spinach and can be used as a substitute in any recipe that calls for fresh spinach leaves.
Ready to give this vagrant veggie a try? As with any foraged plant, your best bet is to play it safe and talk to a professional before partaking. Be sure you are 100% certain of the identity of the plant. Steer clear of any plants which may have been exposed to chemicals or other contaminants. When in doubt, throw it out! With proper safety precautions, lamb’s quarters could transform from a loathed intruder to a thriving new garden friend!