Chenopods include edibles such as California goosefoot, amaranth, and quinoa.
Collectively, chenopod branches are alternate (which means they take turns up a stem), the leaves have petioles (tiny stems) and are shaped like a goose’s foot; hence the name ’cheno’, which means goose, and ‘pod’ which means foot. Young leaves and stems are often covered with tiny hairs (trichomes) or a white mealy dust, a condition called farinose.
Many chenopods, such as common lambsquarters, are considered severe agricultural weeds, and the pollen from all of these plants can cause an allergic reaction for some people. Flowers generally bloom from spring through fall, but we can enjoy the benefits provided by some of the more benign varieties without adding invasives into our gardens and landscapes. Humans have been eating chenopods for over 6,000 years. Below are some of the more common chenopod edibles.
California goosefoot (Chenopodium californicum), also known as lamb’s quarters (or lambsquarters), is a close cousin to spinach. Like spinach, goosefoot contains a lot of calcium and other minerals. Goosefoot is easy to identify with its tall green growth and purple tips and blooms. It’s really a lovely pant, grows without any help from us, and can be eaten raw or cooked, just like spinach.
Another form, pitseed goosefoot (C. berlandieri), was a staple crop for many eastern Native American tribes. Once this plant appears in your landscape and is allowed to go through its normal lifecycle, it will continue to turn up. The next time you see a weed with purple edges and flowers, take a closer look before cutting it down. If it is California goosefoot, nibble a tender new leaf and see what you think.
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) has taken grocery store shelves by storm as a high-protein, gluten-free grain. Quinoa oil is also now recognized as a high quality oil. To grow your own quinoa, simply wait until summer’s scorching heat has passed, and plant seeds in rows, 1/4 inch deep. Plants will need to be thinned to 8 to 12 inches apart. Water gently, at first, to avoid washing seeds away, and you may need to protect them against birds, in spite of the seeds’ bitter saponin coating. Keep the soil moist until seedlings are well established, then they are very drought tolerant. Quinoa reseeds itself nicely.
Did you know that you can pop amaranth the same way you pop popcorn? It’s true! You get itty-bitty kernels, but it’s fun to watch and it tastes good. The leaves are also edible. Different varieties of amaranth work better for seed production (Amaranthus caudatus, A. cruentus, A. hypochondriacus, A. retroflexus), while others are better suited for producing leafy greens (Amaranthus cruentus, A. blitum, A. dubius, A. tricolor, A. viridis). Growing your own amaranth is pretty much the same as growing quinoa: the soil must be warm and kept moist, and seeds are only covered with a little soil.
Chenopod pests and diseases
Birds and butterflies enjoy eating the seeds, but these plants continue to survive and thrive, so the damage can’t be all that significant. The same holds true for apple stem grooving virus, tobacco necrosis virus, and the cowbane mosaic virus. They try to slow these plants down, but generally cannot.
Find a sunny spot in your garden or landscape for these colorful edibles!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!