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  • Writer's pictureOrion Aon

Foraging and Eating Lambsquarters or Wild Spinach!

Lambsquarters, white goosefoot, fat-hen, bathua, or wild spinach. All names for this amazing, widespread plant! Chenopodium has a long history of being used for food. There is archaeological evidence that prehistoric people regularly stored and ate lambsquarters seeds! Here is everything you need to know about identifying, finding, harvesting, and eating lambsquarters so you can be like our prehistoric ancestors too!


A large colony of lambsquarters.
Lambsquaters often grows in large colonies which make foraging a simple task!

Description


Lambsquarters, Chenopodium album, is a small to medium-sized, weedy annual. Its leaves grow in a somewhat chaotic or whorling alternate pattern, though sometimes they can be opposite. They are variable in shape and size but are generally diamond-shaped with broad teeth, giving them a webbed-foot appearance and the name Chenopodium, which means goose foot. As the plant matures, the upper leaves can become lance-shaped. The leaves and stems, especially the new growth, are covered in a mealy coating that gives the plant hydrophobic qualities.


Mealy coating on lambsquarters making it look white to purple and shiny.
The mealy coating on lambsquarters is made of structures called globose hairs.

The flowers and fruits grow in small, non-descript clusters around the central stem. The seeds are tiny and dark brown to black. They are similar to quinoa and can be used as an edible grain but are much smaller.


A handful of lambsquarter's fruits.
A handful of lambsquarter's fruits to be used in huazontles.

Range & Habitats


Lambsquarters can be found on every continent except Antarctica. It is so widespread and has been cultivated and eaten for so long that there is uncertainty about its native range. Lambsquarters tend to grow in areas of human disturbance and prefer more fertile soils. It can often be found blanketing freshly turned soil or compost heaps. A common garden volunteer! In Colorado, lambsquarters are most common in the lower elevation urban areas. It can also be found in the middle elevations, and we have a handful of native Chenopodium species that could be confused with it. They are also edible.


Lambsquarters growing in distrubed soil.
Lambsquarters prefers growing in disturbed soils such as gardens or around houses.

Potential Look-alikes


The information in the description above should be enough to properly identify lambsquarters. However, look-alike information is regularly requested, so here are some possible species that could be confused with lambsquarters. This list is not comprehensive and may not be relevant to your region. Remember only to eat wild foods once you're 100% confident in your identification.

  • Many other species in Chenopodium could be confused with lambsquarters. They are also edible.

  • Orache, Atriplex species, are most commonly confused with lambsquarters. These are also edible but have a slightly saltier flavor.

  • Some nightshades, Solanum species, can look like lambsquarters when young, but they lack the white coating on their leaves and stems. Some nightshade species are edible, and some are toxic.


Comparing orache and lambsquarters.
Orache, top, compared to lambsquarters. Noticed the more organized, arrowhead-shaped leaves.

 

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Harvesting & Eating Lambsquarters


Lambsquarters is a perfect, wild equivalent for spinach, but it tastes better, in my opinion. I use the leaves and tender stems as a substitute for any dish that calls for spinach, raw or cooked. To harvest the leaves and stems, look for plants that have not started flowering. These can typically be found through spring. Pinch off the tender tops and large, clean leaves.

Lambsquarters growing in a garden bed.
Lambsquarters loves growing in gardens. I skip planting spinach and just eat this taster weed!

The clusters of flower buds and fruits are also a great edible part of this plant. They can be picked and cooked from the plant or used in more traditional applications such as huazontles.

The seeds can also be collected and eaten. They are similar to their relative quinoa but are much smaller. To harvest, wait for the clusters of fruits to dry and then strip them from the stems into a paper bag or other container. The husks and chaff will need to be separated from the seeds. I tried this process at a foraging event with Erica of Wild Food Girl. We used silicon mats to help rub off the husks and baskets to winnow away the chaff.


Huazontles are a fun traditional way of eating lambsquarters.
Huazontles are a fun traditional way of eating lambsquarters.

Lambsquarters can usually be found in large patches, so collecting a large amount is simple. The leaves and buds are best preserved by blanching, shocking in ice water, and freezing in a vacuum bag. I am uncertain about storing the seeds, but I assume they could be frozen or dried and stored in air-tight containers.


Foraging Calendar


To learn more about the best seasons to harvest lambsquarters and many other wild foods, check out my Foraging Calendar & Wild Food Database! You can try the demo version to learn more, and join my Patreon to gain full access to the Foraging Calendar and other exclusive perks! Joining is the best way to support all the work I put into my content and website to help you learn about foraging! Thank you for checking it out!


A screenshot of my Foraging Calendar.

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