Young Pigweed, note the white dusting on the leaves

Chenopodium album: Getting Goosed!

My first recollection of Chenopodium album, pigweed, came around 1960 via a neighbor named Bill Gowan.

Mr. Gowan was what you’d call a wiry man; not tall, not muscular, but strong and an excellent gardener. He, and his wife Maxine Lambert, had degrees in agriculture and were making a good effort at running a farm next door raising a few thousand chickens and seven kids.

As was the case back then neighbors helped neighbors. He was over to our place working with us on some plumbing when he saw a huge crop of pigweed where the lawn was supposed to be. (Earlier that year my father had spread hay chaff from the barn on the dirt area set aside for lawn and grew a gigantic crop of wild mustard and pigweed but no grass.)

Pigweed seed spikes

As Mr. Gowan was leaving he stopped, chewed his pipe stem, slid back on one hip as was his habit, and remarked that the pigweed was very fine looking and would we mind if he took some home for supper? That caught my ears because I didn’t know they were edible. My father told him to take all he wanted and Mr. Gowan went over and yanked up four or five plants that were much taller than he was. He wrestled them from the hard soil and took them all home, stems and all. I can still remember the happy glee he had hauling them out and taking them away. He was a perpetualy skinny man of prodigious appetite so I’m sure he looked forward to them with his lips a-smacking. He never let them grow in his very neat garden. Pigweed ( Lambsquarters, Fat Hen ) is the fastest growing Chenopodium.  There are many members of the family: Don’t eat it if it has a strong varnish-like smell. That would be one of a few used for spice or medicine. (See Epazote.) Well… I say don’t eat it if it smells like varnish but in some countries they manage to get around Epazote’s odor and use it as a green as well as flavoring and medicine.

Here in suburban Central Florida it is difficult to find enough Chenopodium album (ken-o-POE-dee-um AL-bum) to make a meal out of. Not two miles from me used to be about 20 acres of it every year but now that old frozen orange grove is a coiffured upscale, fenced housing development. I haven’t even seen a single pigweed growing outside the big brick fence. I still see a Chenopodium now and then but usually just one straggling plant at a stop sign or the like.  To bad because it is a choice potherb, mild in flavor and nutritious. If you have the time the best place to find them now is in less-than-well tended orange groves.

That Chenopodium is an edible is not in doubt, leaves to processed seeds. It has been a mainstay of many for centuries. However, whether the extremely common C. album is a native to North America is something of a debate. Probably not. However C.  berlandieri (bur-lan-dee-ER-ee)  is native and is used the same way.  It was cultivated as long as 3,500 years ago.  Chenopodium means goose foot, referring to the shape of the leaves. Album (see photo on top) means white as the leaves often have a dusting of white making them unwettable. Pigweed can have up to 19,000 IU’s of vitamin A per 100g serving.

Among the known edible Chenopodiums are: bonus-henricus, californicum, capitatum, fremontii, leptophyllum, rubrum, urbicum. The next three are used as spices: C. ambrodioides, pueblense and botrys, though I think that is stretching the definition of spice.  They stink. Use sparingly. Also avoid the smelly medicinal C. anthelminticum. It’s in league with the previous three only stronger.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Large plant, to six feet or more, often mealy early in the season, leaves very variable, diamond-shaped widest point usually well below the middle, narrowing to two straight untoothed sides making a V-shaped base, and with straightish toothed sides to the tip.  Flowers ball-like clusters arranged in spikes. The minute flowers have five green sepals, five yellow stamens.

TIME OF YEAR: Young shoots in spring, leaves summer and fall, seeds fall.

ENVIRONMENT: Waste ground to fertile gardens.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves raw, older leaves sweated or boiled, seeds after soaking overnight and rinsed well to remove saponins on surface. Chenopodium is a nitrogen holding plant  and high in oxalic acid. Best avoided by those with kidney stones, gout or related issues.  Seed is 49% carbohydrate, 16% protein, and 5.88% ash. Water the seeds are soaked in can be used as soap.

 

If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Belton November 10, 2016 at 18:14

First became aware of lambs quarters when walking through a field of sugar beet crop in Lincolnshire UK. They spray a line through the crop, using glyphosate, to keep the public footpaths and bridleways clear, and the cleared area had been taken over by lambs quarters, their seed heads as fat and healthy as I have ever seen. I was sorely tempted but dared not sample it on account of the glyphosate.
See: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4175551, http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4175571, http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4175549

Reply

Susanna Dzejachok December 22, 2015 at 15:51

The photos are of lamb’s quarters, not pigweed. They are still very tasty though.

Reply

Green Deane December 22, 2015 at 16:06

Common names are quite fluid. There are nearly 20 “pig weeds” in North AMerica. Lambsquarters is called as is Amaranth and several others.

Reply

Patricia April 30, 2015 at 12:55

Dear Sir,

I just identified one of my yard plants as pigweed with seed spikes as seen in your photo above. I live in drought-ridden Southern California so it makes me happy to find this lovely plant.

Thanks for making this enjoyable pursuit a little easier!

Reply

Karen Derby March 27, 2015 at 23:39

This “weed” is fantastic in any recipe you would use spinach for as well as a simple pot herb. Use it place of spinach such as chopped in the riccotta aspect of savory vegetable lasagna. Use in smoothies and soups. How about chopped in omlets with chives,tomatoes, and cheese? I blanch and freeze a great deal and use it through the winter. Love it and have never had family or friends note that it wasn’t “store bought.” It dehydrates well too for further use in soups. Thank you Green Dean. Karen

Reply

Sandy November 20, 2014 at 10:56

Hi Dean, This is my go-to site when I want to know if a weed in my yard is worthwhile. I’ve been allowing a half dozen lambs quarter to grow each year, after watching your video. We’ll eat a few meals prepared like spinach. My hens love to nibble on the leaves too. Then, I train up the plants to be small trees. They provide quick growing shade cover in my local desert environment, and don’t need alot of water. It’s like having temporary shade cloth in the worst of summer. Well, this year I’ve harvested the seed. Somehow, I thought it might be chia seed? After reading your article, I think I’m way off. Glad to know the seed is edible. I must have nearly a quart of it. Now I know to soak it before eating. Not sure what to do with it then, but there is enough to experiment. Thanks again for you videos AND maintaining this very informative website. Cheers, from the low desert of Calif.

Reply

Pa(tri)cia A July 4, 2013 at 11:14

I had thought to sprout the seeds rather than going to the effort of making flour – and eating them raw. I have done this with quinoa – and it is delicious – using the directions from http://www.sproutpeople.com/seed/print/quinoa.html successfully. I wonder if anyone else has tried to sprout lambs quarters seeds? Will let you all know how I make out in a couple of months when the harvest is on.

Reply

Michael June 6, 2013 at 00:29

Lamb’s quarter is one of my favorites also. I’m going to ramble on about it now for a few unorganized paragraphs, which I think you will find informative, despite the disorganization.

I prefer to use the name lamb’s quarters, because pigweed refers to a number of different plants, most of them in the genus Amaranthus (which are also a good potherb). The name lamb’s quarter is still problematic, as in the following common exchange I have: “Would you like to try some lamb’s quarter?” “No thanks, I’m a vegetarian.” Lamb’s quarter is derived neither of sheep, currency, nor fractions, and so is a very confusing name, but I still prefer it to pigweed.

I’ve been cultivating and selling seeds of the magenta one for many years now. I saw one grow out of a manure pile and get to about 12 feet tall. They can get nearly as wide as they do tall if they have the space, and aren’t of undesirable genetics.

That’s something I wanted to point out. Some of them try to go to seed too early. I think sometimes harsh conditions can trigger early flowering, but I’ve seen a variety on a friend’s farm that is seedy about as soon as it comes up, and never gets more than a few feet tall, having multiple generations during one summer, and proving to be a very troublesome weed. I prefer my plants to be less weedy. I only want one generation per year, and I want big pretty leaves as long as I can get them. I yank out any plant going to seed before the rest, to guard my genetics. Another thing that can help is cutting them back (to harvest and eat) when they start getting those narrow little leaves they get before seeding. That can force them to grow more leafy shoots before seeding and lengthen your harvesting season. If you cut a large plant all the way back though, you’ll probably kill it.

In my experience they prefer fertilized limed land, and you get the best leaves for a longer time if you irrigate. It doesn’t have to be freshly fertilized. Old farm fields are usually good enough, but they don’t like the poor acid sands we have naturally in most of Florida.

I was selling plants and seeds at the Florida Folk Festival and brought some lamb’s quarter to cook and give out as samples. I boiled it for 5-10 minutes with some olive oil and Tony’s creole seasoning. When it was done, I squeezed a lemon into the pot. Everyone we gave it to liked it and many of them bought seeds. I’ve also used it in curry stir-fries, and it was excellent in a lentil soup. It can replace spinach in any recipe, and tastes quite a lot like it when cooked.

In Gainesville, it usually starts coming up in February. The seedlings can handle a light frost, but a hard freeze will kill them. Usually plenty more seeds are waiting to take their place. When I plant seeds, they can take one to four weeks to germinate. They have a dormancy mechanism and have some of the longest viability of any seed. They require repeated warm/cold cycles to break the dormancy, though the seeds come with a variety of dormancy programming, which accounts for the variation in germination timing. Just make sure to sprinkle the seeds on the surface. They don’t like being buried at all. Usually the buried seeds will stay dormant. It’s a good strategy for landscapes that are frequently tilled. Each time the tiller passes, it will expose some old dormant seeds, which can then germinate. This seed-bank formation can be thought of as insurance for the continued existence of the plant in an area, against a crop failure in any particular year, or even for many years running.

I’m hoping to include lamb’s quarter in a class on cooking summer leaf vegetables. I also hope to put a video on my website demonstrating how to quickly separate the leaves from the stems. (edibleplantproject.org). It’s not there now, but maybe one of these days we’ll do it.

Reply

Deborah Aldridge December 19, 2012 at 20:43

When I was little, my grandmother used to take me to pick lambsquarters to cook for lunch. She told me the seeds could be made into flour, but said she was too lazy to do that. I just found out that Quinoa is in this family, and am wondering if it can be grown in FL.

Reply

Green Deane December 19, 2012 at 20:50

As far as I know, yes.

Reply

Jan Mixon September 26, 2012 at 10:06

This is a great website for foragers. My only complaint is you don’t forage in Arkansas and I feel like I am missing out on some great eats.
Thanks you so much for the information.
Jan Mixon

Reply

Bill Taylor September 11, 2012 at 00:13

Lamb’s Quarters is one of the 40 ingredients in our salad mix. There is a cultivar callled “Magentaspreen” which has that purple/pink color dusting its leaves instead of the common white (or silver) variety. Tends to be about 50% larger in all dimensions than the white/silver one. My wife made a “poppyseed” cake using it with oats, honey and coconut. Our website currently has the salad ingredients, cultivation chart, and medicinal properties.

Reply

Bo March 27, 2012 at 20:55

Goosefoot is one of my favorites. They’re just starting to sprout up here in Oklahoma. I found some seedlings in a barren area under a bridge near my work the other day. One thing I have always loved about these is that they can be so easily transplanted. I pulled five or six up, threw them in a bag and took them home. Sure, they were droopy when I got home. After plugging them into the dirt and watering a little, they magically come back to life!

I always get questions about my 6 foot tall “weeds”. The discussions are always funny. And of course, I direct them to this page. 🙂

Reply

Kevin March 24, 2012 at 19:52

When ever I am out looking for some good edibles I always go to your site for info. The lambsquarter (if it is) here in southeast Texas has black berries on it in early spring. Is this correct or did I miss identify it? Thanks for all you do.

Reply

Green Deane March 25, 2012 at 21:22

That is not lamb’s quarter. It’s probably Solanum americanum.

Reply

julie January 18, 2012 at 00:02

I’m in Gainesville (North-central Florida) and mine took two weeks to sprout in November (winter garden). They are now about 18″ tall and some are making seeds. I plan to let them go to seed and see what happens. We have had about three below freezing days so far this year and they haven’t seemed to mind at all. By all that I have read, they are an extremely hearty weed-one of the ones the corn farmers can’t get rid of ; adapting to the herbicides and persistent in their growth. Mine prefer to be left alone. The native plant grower at my local farmer’s market says that most weeds prefer to be treated as weeds, i.e. pretend you don’t like them (at least until it’s time to eat them).

They are better cooked than raw and if you simmer the stems in a minimal amount of salty water until they are tender, they are somewhere between asparagus and spinach. I prefer them to any other pot herbs that I have tried.

Reply

Green Deane January 18, 2012 at 05:49

Thanks for writing. Please read my December 6 2011 newsletter. I have a large article on Round up resistant Palmer Amaranth.

Reply

Paul G October 24, 2011 at 15:44

…any idea how long the seed takes to germinate or need cold stratification? I know that really isn’t your focus here. I bought some seed, believe it or not, to get this plant out at my land, and tried them in a variety of environments around the property early in the spring.

Some are just now popping up at the end of October, which will undoubtedly not survive the winter here in northern new mexico. Too bad. Tried a young leaf and it was mild but tasty.

Reply

Green Deane October 24, 2011 at 16:00

Thanks for catching the typo… as for germination… when I plant them they came up in about 10 days… as for cold stratification… I don’t think it is necessary. They grow readily here in Florida without any significant chill hours. Now if only my olives were so forgiving…

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: