How would you like it if there was a green similar to spinach but easier to grow, even more
nutritious, better tasting, and a longer harvest period? Let me introduce you to my good friend, Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album). This is a weed to most gardeners, but it should really be a part of the garden it is such a delicious and nutritious food. When something is a weed, you know it is easy to grow. It thrives in garden soil but will grow in any disturbed soil as long as it has sun. We never planted it. It just showed up in our garden a couple years ago. When I saw it, I let it go to seed and now we have them all over our garden. It does get pretty tall but the leaves are not that dense so it doesn’t shade other plants too badly. If it does start taking over a little too much, it is very easy to pull out. It spreads by seed–there are no deep roots or rhizomes to deal with. It is an annual but it reseeds itself so well, you never need to worry about planting it. I haven’t seen it bothered by pests.
This is a really delicious green. It never gets that intense bitterness that most greens get nor does it get too fibrous. You can harvest it from late spring until it dies back in the fall. You don’t have to worry about it bolting or going to seed and losing its wonderful flavor. It just keeps that yummy flavor the whole growing season. Its one downside is it has a white powder on the underside of the leaves which can coat your mouth if you eat a lot of these raw as in a salad. That is not a problem at all if you cook them.
Lamb’s Quarters are a nutritional powerhouse. They make spinach and most of our other
domesticated greens look silly. According to Steve Brill, it is high in carotenes (antioxidants and precursors to vitamin A), calcium, potassium, iron, trace minerals, B vitamins, vitamin C, and fiber. Cook it by steaming, boiling, or sauteing for just a few minutes and it wilts just like spinach. It has a similar flavor to spinach (it is closely related) but better.
If you like delicious, nutritious food that will volunteer and require absolutely no maintenance in your garden, then you will love Lamb’s Quarters. It makes thousands of seeds every year. If you want some, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to collect some (no promises). If you have had a garden for a while, you likely have this growing already.
This is a very easy-to-identify plant, but do check a field guide carefully before eating any wild plant. There are some similar species that should not be eaten, but they smell like turpentine. Lamb’s Quarters has little to no smell. The pictures below can help you identify it. Click the pictures for larger views.