White Goosefoot (Chenopodium album)

Baconweed, Bacon Weed, Fat Hen, Frost-blite, Goosefoot, Lambsquarters, Pigweed, White Goosefoot

Lambsquarters has many other names, including pigweed, goosefoot, and bacon weed. This plant seems to appear out of nowhere and is considered by many to be a pesky weed. However, the greens of this plant are edible, can be prepared similar to spinach, and are packed with nutrients.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Chenopodium album is a fast-growing annual plant in the flowering plant family Amaranthaceae. Though cultivated in some regions, the plant is elsewhere considered a weed. Common names include lamb’s quarters, melde, goosefoot, wild spinach and fat-hen, though the latter two are also applied to other species of the genus Chenopodium, for which reason it is often distinguished as white goosefoot. Chenopodium album is extensively cultivated and consumed in Northern India, and Nepal as a food crop known as bathua.

Its native range is obscure due to extensive cultivation, but includes most of Europe, from where Linnaeus described the species in 1753. Plants native to eastern Asia are included under the C. album, but often differ from European specimens. It is widely naturalized elsewhere, such as in Africa, Australasia, North America, and Oceania, and now occurs almost everywhere (except Antarctica) in soils rich in nitrogen, especially on wasteland.

It tends to grow upright at first, reaching heights of 10–150 cm (rarely to 3 m), but typically becomes recumbent after flowering (due to the weight of the foliage and seeds) unless supported by other plants. The leaves are alternate and varied in appearance. The first leaves, near the base of the plant, are toothed and roughly diamond-shaped, 3–7 cm long and 3–6 cm broad. The leaves on the upper part of the flowering stems are entire and lanceolate-rhomboid, 1–5 cm long and 0.4–2 cm broad; they are waxy-coated, unwettable and mealy in appearance, with a whitish coat on the underside. The small flowers are radially symmetrical and grow in small cymes on a dense branched inflorescence 10–40 cm long. Further, the flowers are bisexual and female, with five tepals which are mealy on outer surface, and shortly united at the base. There are five stamens.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

The fat hen is an easily grown plant that self-sows freely and thrives in full sun. The white goosefoot can also grow well in partial shade. Hence the plant responds directly to bright indirect light well.

Temperature and Humidity

The plant is versatile as it can grow in full sun to partial shade, and the genus is drought tolerant. The same applies to temperature as the plant can grow in different climates to temperatures that range from 41°F to 86°F.

Therefore, if you live in a cold region in North America, you can grow it annually, but in tropical areas, it will still grow throughout the winter.

Watering

The white goosefoot is a hardy weed that is drought-tolerant but helps keep the soil moist for optimal growth. When grown controlled outdoors, it will rely mostly on rainfall, but supplement watering can be given if it is dried out.

For outdoor lamb’s quarter plants adding some mulch helps to retain the moisture.

Soil

These edible plants grow best in fertile soil types with manure that helps increase the lamb’s quarters frequency. Yet, in the wild, you find the fat hen growing in loamy, sandy soil.

Yet another report advises that when you grow these plants in soil types with too many nitrates, Chenopodium species can concentrate the substance into their leaves.

Nitrates can result in health problems for humans but should not be a concern if you do not plan to eat them. Even in nitrogen-rich soils, the fat hen can concentrate the hydrogen cyanide.

Fertilizing

Growing lamb’s quarters as a houseplant can benefit from feed in the growing season. Still, these plants can thrive without any feed outdoors throughout the year. We recommend an organic liquid fertilizer during spring and summer.

Pruning and Maintaining

Lamb’s quarters is an annual plant that does not need much pruning. You can remove diseases and yellow or dropped leaves from the stems in the growing season. It will keep your plant free from pathogen infection.

Propagation

For multiplying your fat hen, the best is through seeds. These plants produce a lot of seeds, and the majority of the seed drops to the ground. When you sow spring time the seeds of this genus will sprout quickly.

So the best is to keep your white goosefoot under control by planting the seeds in containers to prevent wind from spreading the seeds even further in your garden.

Pests and Diseases

On the fat hen, you can find many fungi, viruses, to bugs pestering the plant outdoors. Still, it is not as susceptible to bacterial infections or pests when taken care of indoors. Still, if it is in too moist conditions leading to wet feet, it can result in root rot and fungal infections.

Hence, we recommend allowing the soil to dry between watering to prevent the foliage from rotting.

III. Uses and Benefits 

  • Nutrition

Raw lamb’s quarters are 84% water, 7% carbohydrates, 4% protein, and 1% fat (table). In a 100 gram reference amount, lamb’s quarters provide 43 calories, and are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of vitamin C (96% DV), vitamin A (73% DV), riboflavin (37% DV), vitamin B6 (21% DV), manganese (37% DV), and calcium (31% DV), with several other dietary minerals in lesser amounts (table).

  • Culinary use

The leaves and young shoots may be eaten raw or cooked as a leaf vegetable.

The flower buds and flowers can also be eaten cooked. Each plant produces tens of thousands of black seeds. Quinoa, a closely related species, is grown specifically for its seeds. The Zuni people cook the young plants’ greens.

Archaeologists analysing carbonized plant remains found in storage pits and ovens at Iron Age, Viking Age, and Roman sites in Europe have found its seeds mixed with conventional grains and even inside the stomachs of Danish bog bodies.

In India, the plant is called bathua and is found abundantly in the winter season. The leaves and young shoots of this plant are used in dishes such as soups, curries, and paratha-stuffed breads, common in North India. The seeds or grains are used in phambra, gruel-type dishes in Himachal Pradesh, and in mildly alcoholic fermented beverages such as soora and ghanti. In Haryana state, the “bathue ka raita” i.e. the raita (yogurt dip) made with bathua, is commonly eaten in winters.

In Nepal, it is known as bethe or bethu. It is used to make a dish known as saag. The leaves are stir-fried with spices, chilli and diced garlic. A fermented dish known as masaura is also made by dipping the leaves in a lentil batter with spices and then dried in sun for some days. The fermented masaura can be made into a curry and served with rice.

  • Animal feed

As some of the common names suggest, it is also used as feed (both the leaves and the seeds) for chickens and other poultry.

  • Construction

The juice of this plant is a potent ingredient for a mixture of wall plaster, according to the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, which is a Sanskrit treatise dealing with Śilpaśāstra (Hindu science of art and construction).

  • Traditional medicine

In Ayurveda traditional medicine, bathua is thought to be useful for treating various diseases, although there is no clinical evidence such uses are safe or effective.

IV. Chenopodium Varieties

When it comes to edible plants in the Chenopodium genus, you can find some varieties, but these are the popular ones available.

  • Chenopodium giganteum

The goosefoot is a fast-growing annual development with a bushy form. The leaves have a flushed red-to-pink hue. As the plant matures, it turns to a deeper green. You can only eat the young leaves and shoots to cook, like spinach, to remove the oxalic acid and saponins.

You can also collect the plant seeds if grown in a warm climate to sow in spring.

  • Chenopodium fremontii

The Fremont’s goosefoot is another edible plant you can consume when taking the young leaves and shoots. You can cook it as spinach, but it should be cooked to break down the toxins.

White Goosefoot (Chenopodium album) Details

Common name Baconweed, Bacon Weed, Fat Hen, Frost-blite, Goosefoot, Lambsquarters, Pigweed, White Goosefoot
Botanical name Chenopodium album
Plant type Annual
Hardiness zone 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Gold/Yellow
Leaf color Blue