Lamb’s quarters and its close relatives are cultivated as a vegetable or grain crop, or as livestock fodder, in many parts of the world.
In North America and Europe, lamb’s quarters is mostly considered a weed in gardens and crop fields, and people go to lengths to control it. It competes with crops such as soybeans and corn, reducing crop yields. Each plant produces abundant seed, and seed can remain viable for 40 years. If you want to prevent lamb’s quarters from getting established, remove the plants before they bloom and form seeds.
Lamb’s quarters is wind-pollinated, and it can contribute to hay fever. Allergy specialists often group chenopodiums and amaranths together in the same category of allergens, because these closely related plants bloom about the same time and have pollen that looks very similar under a microscope.
Lamb’s quarters and its close relatives can be eaten raw in a salad or as a cooked green, similar to its relative spinach (Spinacia oleracea). Like spinach, it has high levels of oxalates, so it should be eaten in moderation; people prone to kidney stones or having other kidney trouble should probably avoid it (check with your doctor or dietician if you have questions).
When cooking lamb’s quarters, keep in mind that it shrinks when cooking, so gather about three times as much volume of leaves as you think you need. Then, prepare it as you would prepare spinach. Cook it alone as greens, or use it in casseroles, stir-fries, in a wilted salad; or cook it and stir it into cream cheese as a cracker or sandwich spread, into plain yogurt as a tzatziki sauce, or in omelets, on sandwiches, and more.
In springtime, when tender young growth is present, many Americans enjoy eating lamb’s quarters in a “mess” of field greens (including a variety of other wild greens such as amaranth, lettuce, sow thistle, and dock).
The seeds can be dried and eaten like a grain or ground into a flour, much as you might prepare the seeds of its relatives quinoa (C. quinoa) and amaranth (Amaranthus spp.). Like quinoa and amaranth, lamb’s quarters seeds are highly nutritious, notably in protein, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Most American wild edibles enthusiasts warn that harvesting and preparing the seeds is a lot of work for little return.
A common, widespread, nutritious plant, lamb’s quarters is a favorite edible green and seed plant almost everywhere it grows. Apparently, humans have been eating it for about as long as anyone can determine. Archaeologists have found evidence of the seeds being stored or consumed at Viking, Roman, and prehistoric sites. Native Americans also traditionally ground the seeds for flour.
In northern India, lamb’s quarters is called bathua (BAH-too-uh) and is a favorite vegetable during the winter season. You can find recipes online for bathua raita (yogurt salad), bathua saag (cooked greens), bathua paratha (flaky flatbread), and more.
Other important food plants in the amaranth family include beets and swiss chard (Beta spp.), epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides), orache (Atriplex spp.), and good King Henry (Blitum bonus-henricus).
Chenopodium album is the type plant (first plant named) in the genus Chenopodium. The originator of our system for naming plants, Carolus Linnaeus, named it himself. Chenopodium is derived from Greek words for “goosefoot,” referring to the shape of many of the leaves in this group.