Lambsquarters: Weed harvested as wild food
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Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) is such a common weed that it’s vanished into the visual background, invisible by its ubiquitousness. Humans ate it before the Stone Age, and modern-day foragers seek it out for its taste, abundance and usefulness. But it is an invasive plant that not all gardeners want in their space, explaining why common names vary from Allgood and Baconweed to Dirtweed.
Spring is the best time for collecting wild lambsquarters, but you can eat it as a backyard crop through the summer. The plant prefers partial sun or shade, and with a little water and almost no care, it will thrive. One purple-tinged variety called giant goosefoot (Chenopodium gigantium) is easily available in seed form as Magentaspreen. In the garden it grows far more easily than spinach (a close relative) and can get 6 feet high. It’s sometimes called tree spinach, with good reason.
This is a fast-growing, cut-and-come-again vegetable that can be harvested within a month of sowing. It’s a nitrogen fixer, improving the soil. But more important, you can pick off the tenderest leaves from the top and sides, blanch them briefly in water to remove the oxalic acid and use them just like spinach, kale or collard greens.
Mia Wasilevich, a wild foods chef, and her partner, Pascal Baudar, pictured here, lead classes in foraging in the environs of L.A. When they have collected a wild harvest, Wasilevich transforms the weed into something more civilized -- pesto or spring rolls with a brilliant green dollop of lambsquarters glistening under the rice paper. “It’s a wild food and I prefer to cook it down, even for a short time,” she says. “I do a pureed green velvet soup with it that’s lovely. It can go in any number of sauces. I just did a lambsquarters benedict, like a florentine, with quails eggs. It makes a beautiful sauce.”
Baudar says lambsquarters grows wild in shady places near water, and its abundant seed production (about 70,000 seeds in a typical plant in the fall) means there’s a lot of it around -- on old construction sites, in arroyos that run wet in spring, even in the cracks of a Silver Lake sidewalk. Anywhere that mallow or nettle will grow, you’ll find lambsquarters, Wasilevich says.
Baudar says he has discovered a patch of lambquarters in the foothills near Altadena, but he isn’t revealing the location. The plants in the wild are getting dry and tough, so he also has collected seed to scatter closer to home, in their La Cañada Flintridge backyard.
-- Jeff Spurrier
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Photo credits, lambsquarter leaves and Mia Wasilevich-Pascal Baudar portrait: Ann Summa
Photo credit, lampsquarter plant: Pascal Baudar