Last year was an unprecedentedly lush and vigorous year for my garden. Well, for the weeds in my garden, anyway.
My excuse, if I have one, is that with a toddler and new baby, I hadn't quite figured out that "mom of 2" thing yet. By the time I did kinda sorta figure it out, lots of those weeds were taller than I am. I may be short, but still...
So, I changed my perspective. I took a closer look at the weeds thriving in and between what used to be rows. I discovered that, while my winter squash looked like miserable survivors trying to eke out an existence on the slopes of Mordor, I was growing a shire-worthy crop of yarrow, sweet sorrel, lambsquarter, and joe-pye weed.
Rather than try too hard to turn my garden around, mid-growing season, I found it a less-daunting challenge to find new ways of using the nutritional bounty that I was already growing. We had wonderful salads with the sweet sorrel. We picked yarrow for salves and tinctures, and dried it for tea. And I found that I particularly enjoyed making use of the lambsquarter.
Growing up, I'd known this plant as "pigweed". I could remember my grandmother saying how much she loved it as an edible green, but I couldn't for the life of me remember anything about how she actually prepared it. So I called gram.
When I asked her how to cook it, she told me, "Oh, you know - just cook it like spinach." Then she went on to recount a tale from her newlywed days, when her new Mother-in-Law (my great-grandma Florence) came to dinner. Gram had served lambsquarter as a vegetable with the meal, and Great-Grandma Florence just raved about what wonderful spinach that was! "I never did tell her it was really weeds!" recalled Gram, with a chuckle.
And so, in my own little kitchen, I found myself using lambsquarter in every way that I would use spinach. I loved knowing that it's a nutritional powerhouse - full of B Vitamins, as well as Vitamins A and C. It's also a fantastic source of minerals, including calcium, manganese, potassium, magnesium, and iron.
From salad to smoothies, we ate a lot of it that summer. I also fed it by the armload to the pigs. But still - I had an enormous crop, and was certain there must be good ways to put some of it up for the winter. So I took to canning (more on that in another post), and dehydrating it.
Turns out, it's extremely easy to dehydrate, and makes an absolutely wonderful dried herb. The smell is bright and fresh - almost like alfalfa, and it keeps its color beautifully. I find that it brings a wonderful depth of character to roast lamb or chicken (I use it in my recipe here), and it makes a pleasant addition to beef stew. I ended up dehydrating several pints, and it has become one of my go-to spices this winter.
Drying lambsquarter to stock your spice cabinet is so easy. Pick it in the morning when the nutrient levels are highest. Rinse it free of any dirt, but don't intentionally wash off the white "dusty" outer part of the top leaves. Those are especially mineral-dense, so you want that part.
Press gently between towels to dry off the bulk of any water remaining on the leaves. Then, spread out on your dehydrator trays. (This is the dehydrator that I use and love.) I dehydrate mine right on the stems, and you can see from the picture that I really put quite a lot on the trays. These dehydrate WAY down.
Dehydrate at 125 for about 5-6 hours, until leaves and small stems are brittle, and crumble easily when crushed between your fingers. It's ok for the thicker, main stems to still be a little flexible.
Remove from the dehydrator trays. Over your food processor, slide your fingers down the stems, stripping the brittle leaves and small stems into bowl. Discard any larger, still-flexible stems.
A few quick pulses, and it will look like a dried herb that you'd buy - something between basil and oregano in appearance. Store it in an airtight container, out of the light - just as you would any spice.
Do you use lambsquarter in your cooking? I'd love to hear about the ways that you enjoy it!
Read Next: Prepare Your Kitchen for Canning Season
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Christine Nolan says
I love lambs quarters. I saute it with dandelion greens and kale. I add garlic, sea salt and olive oil. I eat it most every morning as a side with my eggs!:)
Another common name for it is "Goose Foot". I eat as much when foraging as I bring home; Love it Fresh off the plant. I have noticed a difference in taste as close as 50ft apart, one is more bitter, nearing dandelion while the other side of the yard, a little more shaded, it seems to be more mellow and a little sweeter. I will be drying some this year as well as fermenting some along with my Purslane.
We gathered the leaves with the soft part of the stem we whip the white part of eggs dip them in and defried in the hot oil, then we put them inside tomato sauce that we make with a little onions and garlic chicken base and little sugar if you like it sweet (I do) when the sauce is boiling drop the lambsquarter, in it. Delicious with some jalapenos on the side or in your bowl . dont forget tortillas!!! I'm Mexican from a very, very little town.
Farm Mom says
I was just searching for how to dry the seeds, and came across this post!!! I have seen several other pages on Lambsquarters! I too was raised eating them, and you know, these days you can get more product from the rogue lambsquarters then planting a row of spinach! With
“ domestic “ greens, we fight the weather, wildlife like deer and most greens will bolt, just when you think you,re on a roll harvesting. I have learned to let some lambsquarters grow tall and late season just harvest branches from them. Growing up we weeded them from the garden, but harvested from in the barnyard!
I am 61 years on the same farm, born in the dining room( the hospital was closed). I have a long long list of harvesting natural plants.
The group here mentioned puff balls several times....they are weather dependent...but when you do harvest them, like morels and mushrooms, make sure you leave the base and the roots in the ground. Also if you are out hiking take a bag and when you come across the mature black puff ball bring it home and spread the spores in an area you feel they may grow ....works for me!
As far as lambsquarters.....on the farm we never seem to have time to cook something fancy with them....but we steam them , either alone or with spring veggies from the garden, like green onions, green beans and tiny carrots! When you go to eat them, cover with lots of real butter, pepper and sprinkle with apple cider vinegar !! I do freeze them now.....a quick blanch, then lay in one layer on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet and freeze....once frozen bag in a zipper bag, so you can take out what you need easily during the off season!!!
It’s remarkable what’s in nature we can eat and especially for those of you with a bit of property and gardens!.....add to the list, wild leeks, naturalized ground cherries, purslane ...ooooo the list goes on! Enjoy!!! :):)
Thank you Farm Mom for all this good information. I have dehydrated an canned lambs quarter an just love it. I live I southern Oklahoma an spinach bolts really quick here. We cleaned out our kids show animal stalls an the lambs quarter just took it over! I found a recipe for pressure canning it that is so good. I also butcher an can chicken an make broth from the knecks, backs . I cook the lambs quarter in the chicken broth along with onion an some nice fatty home raised pork steak chopped up. It's so good I'll never buy canned spinach again. Canned around 50 quarts last year! Would love to know if you have experience making sour crout an caning it.
Hi Nola! Thank you so very much for the kind comments! Your cooking tips sound absolutely wonderful. YES - I can up quite a bit of lambsquarter every year, and every year I tell myself that I need to put up more! I follow the directions for pressure canning spinach, from the NCHFP site.
I've honestly never even thought of making sour kraut with it though! GENIUS. I will have to try fermenting some this year. Thanks again, and God bless!!
Hi, I don't own a dehydrator..how do I dehydrate lambsquarters without one?
I'm in N.W. Indiana and just discovered the weed I've been pulling in my flower bed for 20 years is eatable. Purslane! I pickled it this year. I'd love to know about the puff balls. [email protected]
Not sure how it got the name "pigweed", but when I was growing up on the farm we fed these to the pigs. They loved them! Threw them up in the air and played with them before eating them! I will try them in a salad soon.
Love your article and the fact I pinned it! I found this plant growing in my raised garden next to my basil. I had no idea what it was, but I left it to grow. (I must have some good gardening intuition, but who knows?) Now it's a little bigger and is showing it's distinctive fuzzy leaves. Since I know it's edible now, in definitely leaving it to continue to grow and later harvest for, from what I've read, some great eatin'! Thanks again!
Isn’t this plant high is oxalic acid? I thought I read that thought edible, the oxalic acid binds some of the minerals preventing absorption. Am I wrong?
My mother made us a lambs quarter stew when I was a kid about 8 we were very poor.I remember how good it was and I didn’t know why why we didn’t always eat it because it was that good.i love this post.
Oh, Deanna, thanks so much for the kind words, and for sharing your wonderful memory! Sometimes those meals from the poor days were just the best - I have happy memories of some very frugal meals as well. I wish I had your mother's recipe to try - it sounds really special, and I've honestly never tried lambsquarter in a stew. Definitely on my must-try list now! Thank you again for the sweet words, and have a great night!
Hi, in my country lambsquarter is known as a weed, we dont use it at all. Think i will try it as soon as spring starts. 😀
I wonder what does it tastes like?
Oh, I'm delighted to hear it! And now I'm super curious - what country are you in, Nebojša? As far as taste, I'd describe it as a mild, very slightly tangy spinach. One interesting thing I've noticed is that taste does seem to vary a tiny bit from one part of our property to the other - my hunch is that soil type and quality play a little role in determining the flavor profile. And no matter what, I think it's all pretty tasty!! Would love to see how you like it when it comes into season for you!
Dora Thompson says
We had so much lambsquarter that we harvested the seeds. We stopped at about a pint and a half. Have not used them yet, maybe in a salad dressing, or on top of a roast. We have enough to play with lol.
Oh how wonderful! I really do love lambsquarter seeds on salad - a fantastic use for them!!
I like the seeds but I also make sprouts for salads and midwinter sandwiches.
Debbie Hrycenko says
I am Ukrainian and my Baba used to make a potatoes soup with cream and pigweed and it tasted like mushrooms.I make it now and my husband won't eat because he says he won't eat weeds.Doesn't stop me.
Oh wow! I never knew what it was called in English,growing up my Gramma called it queleetay,aka to us Mexican Spinach (that's not the correct spelling,I'm spelling like how it sounds). She'd make it with lentils,onion,tomato as a soup especially for Lent. Or with pinto beans (both are super yummy!) and of course being from New Mexico both soups had green chile,it was such a comforting dish and think of her often dancing and cooking in her kitchen,she past away from breast cancer when I was 13. She had passed on some plants to my oldest uncle's wife and finally 30+years later I got some passed down to me. So yay! I'm excited to have a piece of them with me and the transplant is taking to Texas soil!
Yum. One year after abundant spring rains the seeds all quickly grew at the same time and I got a bunch for supper, prepared as you say like spinach. When I didn't have enough, I would use the young leaves in salad. I never thought to dry and use it as a spice though.
Cherilynne Utton says
Your story about gran and serving her new mother in law a weed, reminded me of something I did back in HighSchool in about 1990. I was in a school group that was doing a nature hike and learning competition. I guess I was the only kid who had grown up more like your gran was because I was snacking on so many "Weeds and Trees" that the leader of the group I was in was sure I was going to keel over or have to have my stomach pumped by the end of the hike. Lambs quarter was the first spinach I ever knew. As a child ( 5 or 6) it was one of the times I got to use a knife as I sat on the back porch and snipped bad leaves and roots off of buckets full of it. We froze it after cooking down just a bit. A quick dip in boiling water really. Mom never canned it, she wouldn't use a pressure caner and thought that was the only way. We are so lucky to have all the access to information now that she didn't then. Dehydrating it would have been usefull, but I don't remember my family ever doing any of that. This may be the digital "geek" age, but my kids will know all these things. Really looking forward to more from your site. Thank you for taking the time to do this.
I noticed just this morning that I've got a bumper crop coming up near the chicken coop. I love adding lambsquarters to my morning smoothies.
Linda Jurd says
We know it here in New Zealand as Fat Hen...I always knew it was edible because the Maori folk I grew up with eat it as a green, but I doubt any Pakeha(white folks) eat it well I do but I don't know anyone else who does. It is fed to the chooks ,they love it and it makes them turn into "fat hens"! I haven't tried drying it but I sure as beck am going to now!
Oh my gosh I LOVE Lambs quarter! It was our most successful "crop" in our garden too, haha. We love it so much that we saved the seeds from our yard in the city and spread them all over the land we just bought to homestead on. It has a lot of work to be done, but at least it will have our favorite plant!
Three of my favorite recipes for this are on our blog Simple Homestead Life. I use it daily, when its growing....but I never thought to dry it! Thanks so much for the awesome tip! How lovely it would be to have this most wonderful of "weeds" year round! I will definitely be doing this. I love that you got to talk to your grandma about this--mine taught me about how to eat dandelion greens.
Heidi Villegas says
Hi, Anna! We had lambsquarter in our yard for the first time last summer. I had no clue what it was until near the end of summer when it was about 5 to 6 feet tall and going to seed. It was fun cooking with it! If it comes up again this year (and I'm sure it will), I'll be dehydrating lots too! Great idea! 🙂
Andy Landis says
So, what part of the country does it grow in naturally? Are seeds available? (Imagine asking about seeds for a weed! LOL) I just wonder if it is common here in north Texas or not. My curiosity is raised since we do love spinach and would love to give this a try.
Nelly Burris says
We have it in Oklahoma. This year I took lot of them out of my garden. I was muttering to myself and saying “ I wish some of these weeds would be edible” I subscribed to forage Oklahoma face book group and found out about it. Just picked about a quart. I wish I would not have destroyed this precious green. Talking with my friends they inform me that they grew up eating it. Well, I did not grow up in this country so I had no idea. I just gathered Mullein to make tea. The flowers I gathered and put in jar with olive oil and garlic will be a good remedy for ear ache. I left them in the sun for some time and will sieve them and just use the oil by putting it in a little bottle with dropper. The dried leaves will be great for tea for chest congestion, adding some mint will give it a good flavor and a spoonful of honey to get rid of the chest congestion
I love this and I love lamb's quarters! It's really abundant in my area, but I yoinked a great bush of it from a friend's gardens in the summer this year and just left it out on the back porch to dry in the heat and indirect sunshine. The friend I got it from was astounded when I served it back to him in a soup with turkey and puffball.
Melanie, that's awesome! Your soup sounds absolutely wonderful! I can tell you are a kindred spirit when it comes to foraging. You know - puffballs are one of those things we had lots of, growing up, but I've not seen many on our property here. I hadn't really thought to miss them until reading your comment - but now I want turkey & puffball soup! I'm just going to have to go hunting a little further afield this summer, I think! ; ) Thanks so much for the kind comment!!
It's also known as Fat Hen. Chickens love it! I'm going to collect some this summer to dehydrate and steam.
Jo, that is so cool to know! I'd never heard that name for it before. I just love hearing the different, traditional names for plants, as they vary from region to region. Thanks so much!! Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
That's funny, I'm writing a post that mentions Lambsquarter, too. Yes, I've eaten it, preparing it like spinach. Isn't it great to have something so nutritious, and easy?!
Hi Michelle! Oh, I hope you'll come back and share your post once you've written it - I'd love to read it! And yes - I swear, it's the easiest crop I've ever grown! ; )
Karen Merhalski says
WOW! WHO KNEW! I will be looking forward to eating my "weeds" this coming summer! That was such an interesting article! I have learned so much from this! Thank you again, for such wonderful and interesting articles!
Karen, thanks so much for the sweet comment! It really is amazing - the more I learn about wild edibles, the more I am just amazed at the bounty that surrounds us!