Helpful Herbs: Lamb's Quarters
Known by a variety of colloquialisms, including my personal favorite "goosefoot", Lamb's Quarters is a weed with many uses. Edible and healthy, Lamb's Quarters are resilient and important plants, able to thrive almost anywhere on the planet.
If you want to harvest Lamb's Quarters, chances are you just have to take a walk outside. Clumps of these plants can grow up in large thickets, or it can sprout up as a seedling on a bare patch in your garden. Mature plants are usually about three feet high, with triangular bluish leaves covered in an almost mealy texture.
For those that wish to cultivate a special plot of Lamb's Quarters in their garden, you can start with foraged seed and sow them in open area in your garden. They will require little attention, except that the patch is liable to grow. Disease resistant, they will resow themselves and come back year after year.
Harvesting the plant, which is also called pigweed and fat hen, is also easy. Every part of the plant is edible, but it is the leaves that are most commonly consumed. Like lettuce or spinach, you can cut off leaves and use them fresh in a recipe. You can also dig up the roots and let them dry to make tea, and harvest the seeds to use like quinoa. Both of these uses have the added benefit of keeping your patch, if you are cultivating one, under control.
The ways that Lamb's Quarters are used in the kitchen are countless. Since they've been growing around the world for thousands of years, they can be found in a wide variety of cuisines. The leaves are most often treated like spinach: tossed in a fresh salad or steamed and served as a side dish. They can also be made into a pesto, or included in an omelet, or made into a smoothie. Seeds can be ground up to use as cereal or as flour for a wheat-free bread. They also can be started and consumed as sprouts or included in stir-fries, while the root makes a tasty tea.
Despite its many odorous names, the plant Lamb's Quarters doesn't have much of a smell. It does have plenty of benefits, however, and is packed with an unbelievable amount of vitamins and nutrients. The leaves are anti-flammatory and can be used to treat insect bites and abrasions, and raw leaves are sometimes used to help treat anemia as they are high in Iron content. It is said that bathing in water infused with Lamb's Quarters will smooth the skin, and the tea of the root can have a laxative effect. The root itself can simply be mashed and used as a soap, which was commonly done before bars of soap were more common.
Because its seeds can be used as an alternative to flour, Lamb's Quarters have gained some recent attention by those seeking a gluten-free diet. It has, however, been a staple of civilization's diets since at least 4000 BC.
The leaves of the Lamb's Quarter plants were eaten by Ancient Greeks and Native Americans alike, while the earliest civilizations in what is now Russia used the seeds as a cereal. Its nickname of "fat hen" came to it because the seeds were used to fatten poultry headed for slaughter. It has been used as a alternative to flour in the earliest cultures around the world, and its seeds were used in the making of Shagreen leather.
Among foragers, Lamb's Quarters is known to have some of the highest nutritional content of any wild plant. It is more than just easy to grow, essentially all it requires is some thoughtful harvesting and you can be enjoying this tasty treasure in your kitchen as well!