August Foraging- Lambsquarters, or Chenopods

Remember! Only eat something you are sure of! I am not responsible for any misidentification. I strongly advise retaining research materials and published field guides to expand your knowledge and abilities.

Here in the midwest, its hot, its steamy, the pandemic rages, it’s hard to keep in a good mental health when so many of our social interactions have been curtailed, and many of us are going stir crazy.

I’ve written many times that foraging and hiking are both good ways to stay physically active, supplement your food stocks, and have a positive impact on your mental health. I strongly suggest you try it, but do lots of research on anything you collect. While it is a skill that can be learned, you have to pay attention to detail. Many things have toxic look alike, and if you don’t learn and study, you can do yourself and your loved ones harm.

Just in terms of foraging tips, using a sturdy basket rather than a bag is good to prevent your harvest from being crushed. It is a good idea to take small paper bags with you to sort items you harvest to keep them separated while verifying your identification, and makes it easier to keep you harvests clean.

Lambsquarters, Chenopodium album

Right now I’m seeing a lot of “lambsquarters” (a common name for several species of chenopods) maturing just about everywhere. Many people misidentify it as “ragweed” which is one of the reasons I hate common names so much. There are at least five plants that I know of that are called ragweed and three of them are native edibles. Below are three examples of plants commonly called ragweed. The first is definitely not. I honestly don’t even know what ragweed is because everyone calls all plants that get large and aren’t domesticated ragweed.

Supposedly all ragweed. I don’t know that any of them are. I don’t even know what ragweed is since everyone calls everything ragweed if they sont know what it is!

In this area the most common species is chenopodium album, for the white powdery-like surface of the leaves. There are other species, including one called “goosefoot” but they all have basically the same structures. If you search the USDA plant database for chenopodium you get 186 returns; that is a lot of variation. Even Epazote is a chenopod. Chenopodium is pretty widely distributed across the western hemisphere, and is related to quinoa. It is a nutritious, and high protein food source. Also, it doesn’t sting the crap out of you harvesting it, so bonus over nettles.

This “weed” is often mentioned by herbicidal companies that their products kill it. The irony is that they are trying to kill a nutritionally superior native plant, to keep their inferior plant products alive. The next time there is a commercial or advertisement for some kind of herbicide, look for lambsquarters.

Chenopods have a long and ancient history in the western hemisphere. It was eaten extensively by the Woodland and Emergent Mississippian Native American peoples, and I have personally excavated charred seeds from numerous archaeological excavations during my archaeology days. This crop was common in the midwest, until it was overtaken by corn (which is, ironically, nutritionally inferior) that produced a large crop at a single time. More bang for less nutritional buck. Just as a side note, that’s when you start seeing more dental caries and Harris lines appearing in human remains. More food of lower quality, that also damaged the teeth with the inclusions from the milling process. Proof that high quality food is always a better health choice than lower quality, but easier food.

The leaves, and seeds are edible. When young, the leaves are tender and can be eaten raw. When they get older, they get tough, so you have to chop them finely and cook them. The seeds can be cooked like oatmeal, mashed into a paste for a meat substitute when green, or dry roasted and treated like a seed. They can pop like popcorn. They can be ground into flour, when dried. The seeds are very, very versatile. Also super tiny. They are smaller than poppy seeds!

Young, tender lambsquarters, chenopodium leaves.

This plant is easily propagated in a garden and will offer plenty of food for your family throughout the spring through to the fall. If you don’t have a garden, and know of a source that hasn’t been sprayed, you can harvest all the way up until the leaves turn.

Chenopodium leaf turning red as it has begun to die back.

I’m working on trying to use the tougher stems to weave baskets. However, as baskets are harder than one might imagine, and I’m an utter novice, so that isn’t going well.

We eat this a lot, in just about everything imaginable; salad, eggs, quiche, soup, roasts, crackers (seeds), “burgers” and mixed some in my chia pudding as well. This is an almost invaluable resource if you can locate it. If you do, I strongly recommend trying to harvest seeds and start a small garden plot of it.

Eat local, eat wild, eat foraged, take control of your own food chain.


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