Lambsquarters, or Chenopodium album, is a very tall, bushy weed. Its leaves are shaped very similarly to a duck or goose’s foot. This is one reason many call this weed ‘goosefoot.’ The texture of the leaves, fattish and with the leave’s veins barely detectable, have helped give it another common name, ‘pigweed.’ The leaves have a slight bluish tint to them and are often covered in very fine hairs. The underside is either a whitish-gray or a purplish-creamy white.
This tall, bushy weed is not toxic and has been used as a food source by people since the Neolithic age. It was used extensively by the Romans and later by those living in Europe. The seeds can be used to make a vitamin-rich flour, and the leaves can be eaten raw in salads or boiled the same way spinach is. The leaves are mineral-rich and contain high amounts of calcium. Lambsquarters is currently cultivated as a food crop in various parts of the world, particularly in Asia and Africa.
This weed grows from seed only and is also self-pollinating. Seed production is extremely prolific, with one plant capable of producing several thousands of seeds each season. Between 75,000 and 100,000 seeds can be produced per plant between May and September. Seeds are viable for up to 40 years, so it is important to eradication efforts that plants be eliminated prior to them producing seed. The seeds form inside small florets that grow in long clusters that form on small stalks or spindles that grow at the end of each stalk. The bulk of the plant is upright, but many stalks grow out at an angle due to the plant’s bushiness. Each floret can have several dozen seeds.
Goosefoot’s root system is very shallow, and it can easily be pulled up when there are only a few plants. When several plants are growing in a cluster or group, lawn service crews can quickly remove them. Watching for new growth and then pulling the new weeds can help keep regrowth of this weed to a minimum. New seedlings that are pulled can be added to garden soil, compost, or tilled under to enrich the soil. Lambsquarters are very competitive for nutrients, and using their high production of seed, can overtake an area quickly, killing desired or pre-existing plants. A proper weed control plan is necessary to keep this weed at bay that can either be administered by a homeowner or licensed lawn care service.
While this plant is non-toxic and has been used as a staple food in the diet of different civilizations, the self-pollination mechanism that this weed uses can create episodes of hay fever. With thousands of plants produced per plant, the pollen count in areas that have high numbers of Lambsquarters present is exceptionally high. Ragweed might not be the only culprit in an area causing allergies. When your lawn maintenance service removes ragweed, any specimens of Lambsquarters should be removed at the same time.
If you do find yourself curious about this as a food item, make sure you take your samples prior to any chemical treatments such as herbicides or pesticides being applied to your lawn or garden. The larger leaves should not be used as they can contain higher levels of oxalic acid. At low doses, this is not toxic but has been known to interfere with different types of medications. Oxalic acid disintegrates safely with cooking, so smaller leaves are better to use for salads and larger ones for cooking. The seeds have been found to contain saponins, so these should be consumed in small quantities when raw.