Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) is a hardy annual known by many other names. Some of the more common ones include pigweed, fat-hen, goosefoot, bacon weed, dirty Dick, Muck Hill weed, white goosefoot, frost blite, melde and manure weed.
Lambsquarters is highly edible – and there is reason to believe that it was cultivated intentionally for consumption from the Bronze Age until the 18th century. It was sown in Italian gardens during the 16th century. It is still extensively cultivated in India and eaten by the Zuni people. Once thought to be native only to Europe, recent studies have found that the Blackfoot stored and used the seeds – meaning it is indeed a very ancient food.
Not only used in salads or cooked like spinach, it was also fed to poultry to help fatten them up. It’s seeds were used to produce buckwheat tasting dark bread, or eaten like poppy seeds. It is considered a great green by some, with more protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C and vitamin A then spinach. It also contains more vitamin B1 or B2 than cabbage. Though highly healthy, it was was ultimately replaced by spinach in the 16th century.
If you choose to eat lambsquarters, it is recommended to eat by cooking to remove traces of oxalic acid. Additionally, be careful where you harvest it from, since it uptakes soil contents. It will absorb nitrates, pesticides and a variety of pathogens from wherever it grows.
Although it is a host plant for the beet leafhopper (thus making it not useful near beets), it is vulnerable to leaf miners, and thus beneficial near some crops as a companion plant near potatoes, corn and curcurbits. Because it is a nutrient accumulator, keeping it around improves the soil it grows in, and allowing it to compost in the space will turn keep those harvested nutrients in the soil. It is considered a potential allergen for hay fever sufferers.
What does it mean?
Large numbers of the plant suggest you have a sunny wasteland rich in nitrogen with plenty of moisture. Additionally, it responds directly to magnesium content of soil, so more of it in your garden means you have a lot of magnesium. It doesn’t like shade, but is tolerant of sandy soils. This means you have a fairly good space for a future garden – you just have to balance out those nutrients a bit!
The plant is easiest to manage by pulling when young. Other ways to manage it include tilling or harrowing mature plants, or mowing before seed production. Each plant can produce up to 100,000 seeds, so if you wait until seeds set it will spread. Seeds can live for up to 40 years and still germinate (a common trend in weed plants).
You can use crop rotation of small grains to suppress its growth. Reduce access to water, since the plant is a heavy water drinker. Alternately – you can simply grow it like spinach, keep one for the seeds to replant, and harvest the rest to use as a green mulch around fruit trees or shrubs.
Want to learn more?
If you would like to learn more about weeds, why they grow, and what that means about your garden, consider the following texts:
Weeds and Why they Grow, by Jay L. McCaman
Weeds and What They Tell Us, by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer