Edible “Weeds”: Lamb’s Quarters and Orach

lambs quarters and orach
Left to Right: Lamb’s Quarter (Chenopodium album) and Garden Orach (Atriplex hortensis).

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.

garden orach
Garden orach seedling.

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.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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9 thoughts on “Edible “Weeds”: Lamb’s Quarters and Orach

    • I have three colours in the garden: red, green, and chartreuse. Sadly the chanteuse doesn’t come up as readily. The plant in the top photo was actually growing in some rocks!

  1. Gayla, do you also harvest the wild garlic, or at least I think that is what it is, with its lovely white flowers? I read that it exudes some chemical that keeps other plants from growing nearby. I had pulled up all the luxuriant clumps from my garden this spring only to read in another blog (66 squarefeet)that it makes good eating and a good pesto! I am trying to grow Miner’s Lettuce or Claytonia (William Dam Seeds)which is also a weed but is so delicate and subtle in salads.

  2. Thanks for the tip about the lambs quarter. I hate to throw away anything edible after I’ve gone to the trouble of digging it up. I even eat regular dandelions (boil them like spinach). The only thing is that you have to change the water midway through to get rid of the flavor from the milky sap.

  3. I love that more people are eating weeds! our family is eating them for the first time this year, and so far we’ve been eating dandelion greens, burdock & nettles. The lambs quarters have only just popped up and need another week or so (I can’t tell the difference between the quinoa and the lambs quarters right now as they are related!)
    were growing both green and red orach and they keep self sowing every year which makes them one of our first greens to eat. I absolutely love the colour! my hands even get tinted purple which makes me wonder if they could be used as a dye.

  4. It was a surprise to me to find that these are edible – turns out lamb’s quarters are delicious. Sadly that may make me let them get a bit bigger than the first set of leaves before I pull them up.

  5. I ate lamb’s quarters years ago in New Zealand, but I only knew the Maori name for them. I have been wondering if the weed I see everywhere in Montreal is the same plant. Thanks for clearing that up!

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