Up North and Off the Grid: Edible Weeds – Lamb’s Quarters and more

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If you have an immaculate weed-free garden, you are missing out on some of the best vegetables ever grown! If you are relaxed enough to let a few weeds find a bit of sunshine between the tomatoes, you are in luck! Chances are very good that the weeds in your garden are good to eat. The only trick is that you have to take the time to learn their names, then find out if they are on the good to eat list. Most of them will be.

My very favorite garden weed is Lamb’s Quarters. Some people know it better as goosefoot or pigweed. I’ve seen it described in books as New Zealand Spinach, and apparently fancy restaurants in New York call it this. Some farmers grow it commercially!

We had to introduce it to our garden 25 years ago. We let the first five plants we cultivated go to seed, and we’ve never had to plant it again. This is why most people think of it as a weed. Once established in a garden, it is extraordinarily abundant. Pull it out, and hidden seeds in the soil will sprout a new crop. This is handy, so we are able to enjoy fresh young Lamb’s Quarters all summer long.

Like the spinach it replaces in my garden, Lamb’s Quarters is best picked when it is young and tender. The leaves are about three centimeters long, two centimeters wide at the base, narrowing down to about one centimeter near the tip. The edges are wavy, and if you look closely, you’ll see mealy, whitish stuff on the leaves, especially on the bottom side. Sometimes it has a lilac tint.

I pull the whole Lamb’s Quarters plant out of the soil, nip off the roots, and toss the plant into my gathering basket. There are just too many of them to let them all grow, so every week or so, I cruise the garden and pull out the tender stalks and leaves. Invariably, I’ll miss a few stalks, and these will grow a couple of feet high. I can pick the tips off the branches of the bigger plants, even after the seeds have stared to develop.

I give them a good wash in cool water, just in case some dirt clings to them, then I toss them into a pot to cook. It doesn’t need a lot of water – usually the water that clings to the washed plants is plenty for steaming these yummy greens. It is OK to eat them raw, but I prefer this steaming method instead.

Add a little butter to the steaming greens and enjoy! Or make quiche, or lasagna, or anything else you might normally use spinach for.

Chances are good that if you have a big garden, you won’t be able to eat all the Lamb’s Quarters that grow there. Each time I ‘weed’ the garden, I have masses of Lamb’s Quarters to bring to the kitchen. These I steam, cool, and freeze. They provide a wonderful taste of summer in the middle of February.

Other delightful garden weeds we will enjoy this summer include two kinds of amaranth, along with chickweed, ground ivy, two kinds of sorrel, ox-eye daisy leaves, dock, winter cress and nettles.

While harvesting any wild plant, keep these cautionary thoughts in mind.

Tips for Harvesting Wild Plants

  1.  Always be certain of the identity of a plant before you eat it.
  2. Be sure to collect your edibles from an area that is not polluted.
  3. Think conservation! If there are only a few plants in an area, don’t pick any of them (not a problem with garden weeds!)
  4. Try a small quantity to begin with, as some people have allergic reactions to new foods.


For many years, Viki Mathers and her husband Allan operated Kukagami Lodge, a wonderful off the grid retreat reachable only by boat. They sold the lodge in 2012. They can still be reached by email at: kukagami@gmail.com or visit their website: http://kukagamilodge.blogspot.com/

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