Monday, August 20, 2012

Foraging for Lambsquarters

 Lambsquarters after going to seed

You don't always have to live out in the country in order to take advantage of foraging for lambsquarters. Once you learn how to identify them, you'll be able to locate them all over. This particular green is also known as wild spinach, but it actually tastes better than spinach. When cooked, the taste is a mix between spinach and asparagus.

If you have a hard time locating wild lambsquarters, you may want to buy seeds and plant them in your garden. This does come with some precautionary measures, since lambsquarters will attract aphids. If you plan to place them directly in your garden bed, you'll also want to introduce ladybugs in order to keep the aphids under control. Some gardeners will place the greens in a patch along the perimeter of their yard, so they keep the possible aphid population, and their destructive nature, at arm's length. 

When planting, they will germinate at 40 degrees and only take a few days to notice any growth. All varieties seem to be quite prolific, producing panicles that release thousands of tiny seeds, some of which germinate quickly, while others persist in the soil for years. This is one reason why these plants are such successful weeds.

The leaves have a light powdery appearance, not furry.

The Best Way to Identify Lambsquarters 
Chenopodium album L., the Latin name, is also called white goosefoot, pigweed, and fat-hen. They have a distinctive mealy white or lavender powder present in the center whorl of the new growth’s tip, or just underneath the leaves. The leaves vary from the older diamond-shape to the younger goosefoot ones. This means that there are different varieties, and different stages of growth, so know your lambsquarter before you eat them. I suggest starting with one variety and stick with that until you get better at it.

The following two videos will help you learn how to identify them.

(YouTube link)

(YouTube link)  

Do not collect lambsquarters growing in artificially fertilized or treated soils. It will absorb pesticides from the soil and is also prone to accumulate high levels of nitrates. As the video warned, select growth that is situated at least 100 feet away from the roadway.

When selecting the best plants, you may find that as the weather grows hotter, the stems become tough and more unpleasant to eat. Many who forage say that the young and tender leaves are the best. You'll have to judge for yourself. 

Cooking Lambsquarters
When cooking lambsquarters, the easiest preparation is to first rinse, then pick though and select the best greens. Then simply steam the leaves and stems in a small amount of water until tender, about 5 - 10 minutes. The greens will cook very quickly and turn a dark green color as they shrink down during cooking. The cooked greens are delicious just as they are, or drizzle a little olive oil and salt on top.

Our Chinese friends introduced us to this wild treat. The greens she served us were found on the property where she works. When she cooks hers, she cleans and boils them first. Then she stir fries them with onion and bits of precooked pork. They were delicious!

Lambsquarters are related to quinoa, and it’s considered by some to be a super-food — high in Vitamins A and C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, manganese, potassium and iron.

Once you steam your first batch of the fresh leaves and stems, the biggest surprise may be just how much you enjoy the taste of this plant - then regret the ones you previously yanked from the garden and discarded.