When most people think of weeds, their mind immediately goes to these plants’ harmful and invasive nature. Although true for some, the lambsquarters plant is much more than just a pesky burden.
Although it has nothing to do with actual lambs, land animals and humans often enjoy this plant. This weed’s positive and negative qualities are what make it so complex.
If you’re eager to learn more about lambsquarters, keep reading about this unique weed’s history, dissemination, dangers, and benefits.
How To Identify Lambsquarters
Also known as lambs quarters, the common lambsquarters plant has specific characteristics that make it identifiable. For starters, its size is noteworthy. This erect weed type can grow up to five feet tall, depending on its terrain.
The leaves are another distinctive feature of this plant. When young, the leaves are often covered with a white mealy coating. As they mature, the leaves become dull and pale greenish-gray in color, with stalks that are tinged with purple.
The shape of a lambsquarters leaf can range from egg-shaped to long and thin with a tapered tip. The margins can be toothed, wavy, or smooth during growth. Once mature, the margins of the leaves become sharp-toothed and more triangular or diamond in shape.
These leaves average about one-half to two inches long with thin stalks half the blade’s length. The main component of this plant is its stalks and branches, which are significantly longer than the leaves.
Lambsquarters begins to flower once it has reached its full height. Its flowers are small and inconspicuous. They begin as light green clusters on the top of the stalk and eventually turn brown and papery as the seeds develop inside. Once fully mature, these flowers are dark brown or black with a shiny finish.
What Makes It a Weed
This hard-to-ignore plant is classified as a weed for a couple of reasons. For one, they often randomly appear anywhere that there is open earth in gardens and continue to grow until the frost.
Additionally, lambsquarters is considered a weed because its seeds are not commercially sold, so the plant is not domesticated. This widespread weed quickly takes over garden plots and is challenging to eliminate.
Lambsquarters Potential Damages
This weed is oftentimes a problem for farmers and gardeners who grow corn and soybean crops. In large quantities, this weed can cause a loss of 50% of corn yield and up to 25% of soybean yield damage.
Lambsquarters is also toxic when ingested due to its oxalic acid contents. If eaten in large quantities, it results in the sickness and death of sheep and pigs. Oxalic acid can also cause issues in the milk production of dairy cows.
How It Spreads
Its seeds propagate the lambsquarters. One single plant can produce as many as 100,000 easily dispersed seeds.
It’s also believed that the color and shape of the seeds determine their dormancy. For example, brown seeds have no dormancy, which allows them to overcome unfavorable conditions. This means these seeds can grow under any conditions at all times, dramatically increasing their growth and dispersal throughout the area.
This weed has no specific mechanism for seed dispersal, which causes most to be spread near the mother plant. This results in patches/clusters of lambsquarters, rather than single plants spaced throughout gardens.
How to Get Rid of Lambquarter
With such easily spread seeds that can withstand pretty much any condition, it may seem impossible to get rid of this invasive plant once it has established itself in your garden. Although it is challenging, getting rid of this weed can be done.
Here are a few tips to help make this process a bit less daunting:
Large populations of lambsquarters may be controlled by using herbicides containing an ingredient called dicamba. This is particularly effective during the early stages of growth.
You can also apply a pre-emergence herbicide two weeks before planting your crops and a postemergence application if the small weeds are caught early in their growth.
Removing these plants from your land as soon as you see them before they begin to produce seeds is also important.
Where It Came From
This weed, commonly found across all fifty of the United States, originally came from regions of Europe and Asia. Eventually, human activity caused it to spread across Africa, Australia, and the Americas.
Since its origin, many varieties of lambsquarters have been created, some of which are native to certain areas of the U.S. and Canada.
Benefits of Lambsquarters
Now that we’ve discussed the harms of this weed, it’s time to highlight some of its positive characteristics (because, yes, a weed can be good, too!).
Believe it or not, lambsquarters is quite nutritious. They’re exceptionally high in fiber and protein and contain high levels of vitamins A and C. They also have significant levels of manganese, calcium, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids.
Although toxic to some animals, all of the leaves of lambsquarters are edible for humans. They even have higher iron, protein, and vitamin B12 levels than spinach!
How to Use Lambsquarters
What It Tastes Like
Unlike other varieties, the leaves of this weed are mild and earthy in flavor. Whereas most leafy plants become bitter with age, the lambsquarters retains its flavor throughout its lifespan.
The white waxy coating often found on the leaves gives the plant a uniquely salty taste.
Using the Leaves
This nutrient-dense plant can be used just as other greens, like in your favorite salad or juice recipe!
For the perfect side dish or light lunch, try using lambsquarters to make a refreshing Citrus Salad. With bright flavors balanced by combining feta cheese, pistachios, fruit, and zesty citrus dressing, replacing the arugula with this plant’s leaves will make this salad even better.
If you prefer to drink your health supplements, lambsquarters can be a flavorful and nutritional addition to this savory Tomato Juice. Packing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants into one drink has never been so simple!
The plant’s natural saltiness and spinach-like taste make these leaves a great ingredient for your favorite egg dish. This Lambsquarters Frittata is the perfect well-balanced and nutrient-dense breakfast.
Using the Seeds
Harvesting the seeds of the lambsquarters is another way to use this plant in the kitchen. They can be ground to make hot cereal or used as flour for baking bread and sweets.
The seeds can also be sprouted in one to two days and harvested as sprouts. Benefit from the plant’s rich nutrients by adding sprouts to any meal.
More Than Just a Weed
Because of their invasive and hard-to-remove nature, weeds often get a bad rap. Although lambsquarters brings some challenges to gardens and farmlands, writing them off as all bad would be a mistake.
Sometimes, a bit more information is all you need to turn something from a negative to a positive.
If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.