Local Lambsquarters By Ellary Allis
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
While not undiscovered, the virtues of lambsquarters, or Chenopodium berlandieri, are largely overlooked in North America, where it burgeons ubiquitously on roadsides, in pastures, vacant lots, and veritably anywhere else it finds nitrogen rich soil. Lambsquarters, often considered a nuisance because it disseminates so industriously (one plant can produce up to 100,00 seeds), is edible and in fact one of the most nutritious of leafy green vegetables. Author Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food, The Botany of Desire) calls lambsquarters one of the two most nutritious plants in the world: it’s high in vitamins a and c, and contains riboflavin, calcium, manganese, pholate, iron, and phosphorus. When the leaves and seeds are eaten together, they posess all the amino acids required to form a complete protein. Because of the oxalic acid in the leaves, small quantities of lambsquarters are recommended when consumed raw. Cooking lowers the oxalic acid content, and lambsquarters, like spinach and chard, works particularly well sautéed or steamed.
Prehistoric foragers recognized the nutritional benefits of lambsquarters; archeological records of eastern North America show that Native Americans started foraging lambsquarters back in 6,500 BC. Its domestication in the prehistoric and Woodland Period (1000 BCE to 1000 CE) mean lambsquarters was one of the plants-along with sunflower, cucurbit gourd, knotweed, sump weed, little barley, and maygrass- that made up the Eastern Agricultural Complex of the Eastern Woodland Native Americans. Starting in 1700 BC, the plant was cultivated as a pseudocereal (broadleaf plants used similarly to true cereals, which are grasses). Cultivation of lambsquarters eventually died out in North America, though it’s still cultivated as a pseudocereal in Mexico.
As a medicinal, lambsquarters is a calmative, and helps alleviate stomach aches, coughs, gout, bronchitis, hemorrhoids, and vitiligo. The Iriquois used a cold infusion of the plant to treat diarrhea, and the Cree washed limbs with a decoction of the plant to ease rheumatism. Lambsquarters has refrigerant properties: the Kayenta Navajo applied a leaf poultice dressing to burns- a lambsquarter poultice also helps reduce swelling. The Meskwaki used an infusion of the root for urethral itching. Lamsquarters is also a carminative: to reduce intestinal gas from eating beans, Inuits cooked beans with lambsquarters leaves and stems.
Lambsquarters is a broadleaf, annual herb with diamond-shaped leaves. Chenopodium berlandieri is sometimes called goosefoot, because the lower leaves resemble the webbed feet of geese. The smallest leaves are coated in a white, mealy powder, making the plant easily identifiable. The powder functions as a repellent; water hitting the leaves beads and rolls right off. Flower clusters form at stems, branches, and axils of the upper leaves. Lambsquarters is one of the five most widely distributed plants in the world, and one of the twelve most successful colonizing plants. Barring extreme desert climates, it grows worldwide, in all inhabited areas of the globe.
Crush leaves with mortar and pestle until you see juice
Apply directly on skin and cover with bandage/cloth
Leave poultice on for 30 minutes, and repeat as often as necessary