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I feel very strongly that everyone should learn about the weeds that grow in their area. There are lots of weeds that are edible, with some even more nutritious than the plants we grow in our gardens! Today, for the Self Reliant Skill of the Week, we’re going to make lamb’s quarters pesto.
Lamb’s quarters is a nutritious weed that grows almost everywhere in the world. It’s actually cultivated like spinach in India. Lamb’s quarters is a close relative of both spinach and quinoa. Typically the young leaves are used like spinach.
The technical name of lamb’s quarters is Chenopodium album, but it’s also known as goosefoot, manure weed, wild spinach, pig weed, and fat hen.
Lamb’s quarters identification
Lamb’s quarters can get very tall if allowed to, sometimes up to 5 feet. It has diamond-shaped leaves with toothed margins, and they are alternate off the stem. The underside of the leaves of most plants has a silvery powder that almost feels fuzzy. The stems have ridges, and are reddish-green, which is especially noticeable in larger plants. Lamb’s quarters grow tiny green flowery spikes at the tips, and these flowers develop dark seeds inside them.
Eating lamb’s quarters
Lamb’s quarters are highly nutritious, with more vitamin A, and 3 times the calcium of regular spinach. It is one of the best plant sources of beta-carotene, iron, potassium, and calcium. It also has high amounts of copper, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and vitamins C, K, and B. Lamb’s quarters is actually 24% protein, and has many amino acids to keep us healthy.
Young lamb’s quarters can be eaten in its entirety. It can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, or sautéed. Once the plant gets bigger, the stems and large leaves are no longer palatable, but you can still use the small leaves near the top. It tastes very similar to spinach, and is an acceptable substitute for it in any recipe.
The seeds of lamb’s quarters are also edible and nutritious. They can be harvested, dried, and ground for a flour or porridge substitute.
It should be noted that lamb’s quarters does have a high amount of sodium and oxalic acid, so you shouldn’t eat large amounts of it raw.
- 4 cups lamb’s quarters, leaves and young stems
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (optional)
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
- salt and pepper (optional, to taste)
For the greens, you can substitute spinach, or really any wild green, but since this is lamb’s quarters pesto, I’m using lamb’s quarters. The basil is optional, but gives it a more traditional pesto flavor. If you don’t like basil or don’t have any, you can definitely leave it out. Typically pesto has pine nuts in it, but they are super expensive, and not very sustainable. I grow sunflowers pretty much every year, though, so it’s an easy addition for me. You could also substitute with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, or whatever nut you have, or leave out the nuts altogether.
In a food processor, blend up your sunflower seeds until they are coarsely chopped. Then add your greens and garlic and blend some more. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper. Slowly add in your olive oil until it’s the consistency you like. If you’d like it thicker to use as a sandwich spread, use less olive oil. For thinner pesto sauce, add more olive oil. I used 1/2 cup.
Here is the video of me making my first ever pesto, and it just so happened to be lamb’s quarters pesto!
Are you going to try using weeds?
In these times of uncertainty, it’s a really good idea to get familiar with edible and medicinal weeds. They’re already growing all around us, why not use them? This delicious sauce is a great first foraged food to try!
You can use it on pasta or sandwiches. It’s got a pleasantly mild, fresh taste. You’ve got to try it!