Pull Up Your Plants: Lamb’s Quarter

Chenopodium album

Family — Amaranthaceae (Amaranth family)

Aliases — Netseed, epazote (Sp.), orache, wild spinach, goosefoot, piqweed, fat hen, huauzontle (Sp.), quelite (Sp.), bledo (Sp.), quelite cenizo (Sp.), Katu ayamoddakam (Malyalam) white goosefoot, bacon weed, dirt weed, dirty dick, frost blite, muck weed, Bathua saag (In.), Parupukkirai (Tamil), wild orache, kulfee (In.), Chandan betu (Bengali), Pappukura (Telgu), ldboda

Binomial Etymology — Cheno- denotes a goose; -podi denotes foot; album suggests “egg” [1].

Binomial Pronunciation: — Key-no-pode-E-um al’-bum

USDA Classification — Both native and introduced.

Introduction

While you may not know it now, if you maintain a garden, you have pulled-up and discarded this weed hundreds of times. Many plants are deemed to be a substitute for more familiar grocery-store-bought fare. Lamb’s quarter carries with it the distinction of being arguably superior to that which it substitutes: spinach. It has a fantastic pillowy texture when steamed, and a flavor that is every bit as satisfying. It is peculiar for a plant to be so delicious, yet, have relatively few mentions ancient/archaic literature. Perhaps it is time for us to sing the praises of C. album in our own times.

Description

Growing from one to six feet tall, this cosmopolitan weed has alternate leaves that can be wavy to lobate and are dusted with waxy granular crystals; the flowers are inconspicuous and occur at leaf axils and at the end of stems [2]. The undersides of the leaves are often colored with purple when young, and become lighter in color than the top of the leaf when matures. The leaf shape reminds many of a goose’s foot. The plant is odorless.

Habitat

A common garden weed, Lamb’s quarter is found in any area with moisture and disturbed soil including cultivated fields [2].

Culinary Uses

When the lamb’s quarter is young, it is prepared and used in the exact same way one would prepare spinach. The young flower buds are also edible. Seeds can be sprouted, and are said to be edible when saponins are leached from the grain [6].

Folk Remedies

The Inupiat peoples cooked this plant with beans to reduce flatulence; the Navajo and Kayenta peoples used C. album as a poultice to be applied to burns; the Powawatomi peoples ate lamb’s quarter to ward away scurvy; the Cree and Woodlands people used this plant in a wash for aching limbs [3]. This is one of the few herbs I have found mentioned as a traditional treatment for peptic ulcers [11].

Pharmaceutical effects

Chenopodium album has shown promise as a safe spermicidal contraceptive in studies on rabbits [5]. C. album also has proven to be a plant of possible commercial importance to produce natural health products due to the high occurrence of phenolic compounds in the plant; these compounds have shown to be useful as free radical scavenging, anti-cancer, metal chelating, and treatment agents for atherosclerosis [8].

Magic

The Navajo and Ramah peoples fashioned this plant into the shape of a snake as an antidote to snake bites [3].

History

Evidence of the use of C. album has been found in the culture of Lake Village (Switzerland) which suggests to anthropologists that the use of this plant may go back millennia [5]. Lamb’s quarter was mentioned by the Lewis and Clark expedition as a plant that was widely thought to have been introduced post white settlement [10]. As medicine and food, C. album has been of particular interest to the people of India having been mentioned in numerous Vedic texts in ancient Sanskrit [11].

Literature

“In all localities which are affected by the failure of 
crops, all — the well-to-do and the poor families alike — 
eat poor bread which is made with orache.” — Leo Tolstoy

Nutrition

This plant is high in antioxidants and has antibacterial properties [11]. It is an excellent source of magnesium and potassium (beating out spinach, Swiss chard, and broccoli), lutein, and carotenoids [12].

Recipes

Lamb’s-Quarter Gazpacho [7].

1/2 pound lobster tail or daw meat, cooked,(*) or 4 large shrimp, unpeeled

1 tablespoon olive oil

A few sprigs fresh thyme

Cracked fresh pepper

Salt to taste

7 ounces lamb’s-quarter or young spinach leaves

5 1/4 ounces ice

1/2 ounce white bread,

firmly textured, soaked in water

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil,

available at specialty-food shops

Procedure

  • 1. If using shrimp, marinate shrimp in olive oil, thyme, pepper and salt for 5 minutes. Grill until cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • 2. In a saucepan of boiling salted water blanch the lamb’s-quarter or spinach for 10 seconds, drain and refresh in cold water. Drain.
  • 3. In a blender combine the lamb’s-quarter, ice, bread, and grapeseed oil and pulse until smooth. Correct seasoning.
  • 4. Divide gazpacho evenly among small bowls and garnish each with lobster meat or one shrimp. Yield: 4 servings (*) The meat from a 1-pound lobster should yield enough to garnish 4 servings.

Miscellaneous

C. album has been studied as an agent of phytoremediation for the cleanup of soils contaminated with chromium [9]. This is a source of concern because the plant was shown to be able to take up enormous amounts of the element. As always, harvest in areas that are not known to be contaminated with pollution.

Poisonous Lookalikes

Solanum physalifolium, Solanum sarracoides, Solanum villosum


References

  1. Borror, D. J. (1960). Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms (1st ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
  2. Harrington, H. D. (1972). Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains (5th ed.). Albquerque, NM: The University of New Mexico Press.
  3. Moerman, D. E., & Moerman, D. E. (2009). Native American medicinal plants: An ethnobotanical dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber Press.
  4. Dermaseptin S 4 derivative K 4 K 20 S 4 : A potential candidate for development of a new microbicide contraceptive agent — an in vitro study, Zaïri, Amira ; Tangy, Frédéric ; Hani, Khaled, The European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care, 04/2013, Vol.18(2), pp.79–87[Peer Reviewed Journal]
  5. Coon, N. (1980). Using wild and wayside plants. New York: Dover Publications.
  6. Lamb’s-Quarter. (2000). In K. F. Kiple, & K. C. Ornelas (Eds.), Cambridge world history of food. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csupueblo.edu/login?qurl=http%3A%2F%2Fsearch.credoreference.com%2Fcontent%2Fentry%2Fcupfood%2Flamb_s_quarter%2F0%3FinstitutionId%3D721
  7. Victoria (Hearst Magazines, a division of Hearst Communications, Inc.). Sep98, Vol. 12 Issue 9, p100. 3p. 1 Color Photograph, 1 Black and White Photograph.
  8. Laghari, A. H., Memon, S., Nelofar, A., Khan, K. M., & Yasmin, A. (2011). Determination of free phenolic acids and antioxidant activity of methanolic extracts obtained from fruits and leaves of Chenopodium album. Food Chemistry, 126(4), 1850–1855. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.11.165
  9. Gupta, A., & Sinha, S. (2007). Phytoextraction capacity of the Chenopodium album L. grown on soil amended with tannery sludge. Bioresource Technology,98(2), 442–446. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2006.01.015
  10. Merriweather, L., Dunlay, T., Moulton, G. E., & Clark, W. (1983). The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Lincoln, NENE: University of Nebraska Press.
  11. Poonia, A., & Upadhayay, A. (2015). Chenopodium album Linn: review of nutritive value and biological properties. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(7), 3977–3985. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-014-1553-x
  12. Kallas, J. (2010). Edible wild plants: wild foods from dirt to plate. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith
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