By DR. DAVID COZZO
EBCI EXTENSION CENTER
In midsummer, the wild greens from the forest get a little thin. But don’t worry, there are some excellent weeds in the garden that more than make up for the lack in the woods. Lamb’s quarters is one of these. A relative of spinach and beets, lamb’s quarters (also known as goosefoot) doesn’t have to be encouraged or pampered. Once it has gone to seed anywhere near your garden, you will have plenty. One plant can produce up to 75,000 seeds and the seeds stay viable in the soil for up to 30 years. This adds to its reputation as a pesky weed. But there is much more to lamb’s quarters than meets the eye.
How often have you babied your spinach, only to have it bolt as soon as it starts to get warm and before you get a meal out of it? And I’ll bet you weeded out the lamb’s quarters from your spinach patch? Next time keep the lamb’s quarters and weed out the spinach. You’ll get more back for your effort. Lamb’s quarters tastes a lot like its cousin spinach, but it is much more nutritious. It has a similar amount of Vitamin A, more than three times the Vitamin C, slightly more protein, and almost twice the calcium of spinach. And, while only slightly tougher in a salad, it cooks up to taste just like its cousin. Who’s calling who a weed here! And it will stand the heat in the garden without getting bitter. Even in a hot year, you can pick lamb’s quarters until mid-July. Try to keep your spinach around for that long!
Lamb’s quarters is easy to recognize in the garden. It is so common most gardeners recognize it from weeding it out of their planted crops. The shape of the leaf does resemble a goose’s foot, but one of the easiest ways to identify it is to turn the leaf over. It will have a white, powdery appearance on the back side of the leaf. The flowers are very small and not showy at all, so they are not much help. But once you know the plant from its leaves, it is very easy to identify.
Lamb’s quarters seeds were one of the first domesticated plants in North America, with improved seed varieties showing up in the archaeological record as far back as 3,700 years ago. It disappears from the record around the time improved varieties of corn became the basis of the diet. But we still have a close relative from the Andes region of South America around today. The grain quinoa, held sacred by the Incans, is a very close relative of lamb’s quarters and was domesticated in the Andes about the same time lamb’s quarters was domesticated in the Southeastern US.
You will want to manage your lamb’s quarters before it gets out of hand. With so many seeds it might take over. And you may want to weed it out of your tomato patch. It is known to hinder the growth of tomatoes just a bit. But it is a tasty, nutritious green that tolerates summer’s heat. Every gardener should think twice before pulling it out of the garden.