It's a nice sunny day and the local community garden in Wellsboro looks very appealing.
Well, at least to me and some members of the edible wild plant club with whom I'm there for our monthly meeting.
It looks like an edible wild plant garden, with lots of amaranth, wood sorrel, bladder campion and other interesting edible plants.
One of our members is a Master Gardener and has been assigned to turn this garden into a conventional one, so she invited us to harvest some wild vegetables before the spade hits the ground.
A beautiful patch of lamb's-quarters catches my eye. Also known as pigweed and wild spinach, its scientific name is Chenopodium album.
"Chen" is Greek for "goose," "pod" means "foot" and "album" is Latin for "white." This perfectly describes the goose feet-shaped leaves with a whitish mealy underside.
As they grow older, the leaves will get a little more firm and sometimes the rim of the leaves will have a reddish hue.
The annual can grow from 2 to 4 feet tall with reddish streaked stems. Lamb's-quarters often can be found in tilled soil, such as the soil in vegetable gardens but also construction sites and farm land. The inconspicuous flowers are tiny, round and green, grow in clusters and form numerous black seeds in fall.
Lamb's-quarters are one of my many favorite greens, so I grab a bag and pull some out, shaking the dirt off the roots. Normally I'd just pick the leaves, allowing the growth of new leaves and letting the plant go to seed, but today is the end of the road for them.
I will cut the leaves off the stems when I'm home. That way I can look them over more carefully because some leaves show small red spots indicating the presence of leaf miner larvae. These are harmless when eaten but when used in salads, I like greens without larvae.
While I'm pulling the lamb's-quarters from the community garden, I have to point out that harvesting them from fertilized or otherwise treated soils may not be the safest because this plant, like its relative, spinach, accumulates high levels of nitrates. And like lots of foods we eat daily, it also contains oxalic acid albeit a bit more than spinach. But it's safe as long as I don't eat pounds of it daily for a couple of months.
In India, lamb's-quarters are a common vegetable. It may not have the same status in Western countries yet, but lamb's-quarters slowly are gaining popularity.
As foraging becomes more popular, more people discover lamb's-quarters, due to the ease of identification, its versatility and its wonderful flavor.
Lamb's-quarters taste a bit like spinach but offer more nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, calcium and iron. The leaves hold up well when cooked and are delicious raw.
The black seeds can be cooked as a cereal or ground and used as flour for bread. Tonight I'm making a simple lamb's-quarter stir-fry with butter, salt and pepper, but tomorrow I'll pick up some eggs and make lamb's-quarters with poached eggs for lunch.
Coming in July: Parading the shaggy soldiers.