It was overcast and warm this morning, so I took advantage of the mild conditions to harvest and wash greens for salad. A combination of rain and warmth has the greens going gangbusters over the last few days and I am starting to really reap the benefits of several, generous sowings that I did early in the season.
In among the greens that I harvested were two nutritious greens that I did not need to sow. The first (shown on the left in the above photo), lamb’s quarter aka goosefoot (Chenopodium album) is a common North American and European “weed.” It comes up abundantly in my garden regardless of how diligently I weed. Chances are good that you’ve got it growing in your garden, too.
At this time of year the seedlings are still quite small, but easily identifiable. I pick them out as I go about my regular weeding, but rather than tossing them into the compost bin, I wash them off and add them whole to our salads — stems and all. I let a few plants grow larger and pick them before they produce flowers. You can eat these older plants steamed like spinach with a little butter and salt (delicious). Just be sure not to make a meal of it as this plant contains oxalic acid.
Growing Tips: Lamb’s quarter will grow just about anywhere except in water-logged soil.
Orach aka Orache, mountain spinach, and arrach (Atriplex hortensis) is a hardy annual that I intentionally sowed in my garden. Many consider this a weed because it reproduces aggressively if you allow it to set seed. Case in point: last year I was running low on seed and allowed one plant to go to seed. It matures into an absolute monster and I was able to fill an entire canning jar with the harvest. Several seeds did not make it into the jar and those are the plants that I am harvesting from now. Orach is easily manageable if you do not allow it to grow to maturity and produce seed.
Like lamb’s quarter, I eat the young leaves fresh in salads and the mature leaves and stems steamed.
Growing Tips: Scatter seed directly into the garden in the fall or in the very early spring. This plant prefers moist soil so I tend to grow it in shadier spots where the soil does not dry out quickly.
Botanical Relatives: You can probably tell from the first photo in which both plants appear side-by-side that lamb’s quarter and orach are botanically related. They are members of the subfamily Chenopodiaceae (now considered a part of the Amaranthaceae Family), which includes spinach, quinoa, beets, and Swiss chard. Both plants look as if they are dusted with white powder. They will not bolt early in the season like lettuce, so they’re a good option in mid-summer when most other greens have finished.