23 June 2015
Lambsquarters Leaves and Seeds
One of my favorite things to do after work on a long, languid afternoon of summer is to gather a fresh, wild salad for the evening meal. I always add plenty of lambsquarters to my basket. Her curvy, velvety leaves create a mild base for other, stronger tasting salad greens like dandelion.
Lambsquarters is abundant during the late spring and summer season. The beguiling, undulating leaves—often tinted with just a touch of magenta—have the appearance of a webbed goosefoot, hence her botanical name, Chenopodium album, which translates as “goose foot powder”. The powder refers to a chalky coating that appears on the underside of the leaves. It’s a good way to identify her and also gives a hint to one of her nutritional benefits; lambsquarters is high in calcium.
This is a good thing, particularly because lambsquarters is a native ancestor of spinach. She shares many of the same health benefits but, like spinach, contains some oxalic acid. The high level of calcium in lambsquarters helps to neutralize that component. Like spinach, she’s wonderful cooked as well, and her tender leaves make a wonderful dish when sautéed with some garlic and olive oil (to provide healthy fats which increase absorption of the minerals and nutrients).
By mid-summer, you’ll find her growing tall--a six to eight foot bush. Her inconspicuous green flowers will yield tiny seedpods in autumn. These are her enduring gift to us, since lambsquarters is also an ancestor of quinoa, considered by many to be the “super grain”, and is likewise rich in easily digestible protein, Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
I dry bundles of the seed-heavy stalks until the stalk snaps smartly. The seeds can then be stripped off into a bowl. Unlike cultivated grains, lambsquarters seeds don’t have a chaffy seed pod, so all you have to do is remove any stray leaves with a colander and store your seeds in a mason jar in a cool, dry, dark spot.
The minute seeds are reminiscent of poppy seeds and I like to add them to hot cereals (the little polka-dots in my oatmeal make me smile) or to use them in recipes like “Lambsquarters Applesauce Cake”, which is a favorite in my house at any time of year.
So, she is a dear summer friend. Lovely lambsquarter…gentle and beautiful. Although often dismissed as a “common weed,” she is a generous plant ally, giving us plentiful salad and cooking greens in summer and nourishing grains to keep us vibrant through the colder times. It’s no wonder that she’s long been a staple food world round.
Lambsquarter Applesauce Cake
Makes a 8" or 9" cake
1¼ cup whole wheat or spelt flour
1 cup lambsquarter seeds
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ cup softened butter
¼ cup honey
2 cups applesauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8" or 9" round cake pan. Mix together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl beat together honey and butter. When mixed, beat in egg and applesauce. Mix in dry ingredients until just blended, do not over mix. Pour into cake pan and bake for 45 minutes.