Eat Your Weeds: Magenta Spreen

The monsoon season in the Southwest US  can mean mud in the living room or gold in the kitchen.

If you’ve built or bought a house at the bottom of a hill where three arroyos come together, you’ve probably experienced mud.  If you use common sense and work with Nature, you’re likely the happy recipient of nutritional gold.

One of the golden secrets is to look at what grows well where you live, do some homework to find out what’s good and what isn’t, and then, without spewing toxic chemicals on everything in the yard except the grass you’ve been nurturing, you’ll probably have healthful foods right outside your door.  One thing we can all agree on when the rains come, is the mosquitoes really don’t need to suck us dry every time we leave the house.  There are natural alternatives to toxic chemicals for that too.

When taking people to Canada for fly fishing I try to tell them, if they’re using chemical based insect repellents, not to spray it on the face of their watches or the lenses of your glasses.  The chemicals etch plastics and you have to throw the watch or glasses away.  Think about what it does to your body.

The majority of those who experience severe reactions to West Nile virus and some of the other diseases that mosquitoes carry, are usually health compromised.  They may smoke, eat an unhealthful diet, drink excessively and exercise little, if at all.  All unhealthful choices compromise the immune system.  Mosquito borne viruses exacerbate every preexisting health problem.

Recently, I was told a story about an old homesteader in the Wilcox, AZ area.  He was upset because his grandson was spraying, and paying, to have weeds killed on the land the man had homesteaded.  The homesteader said if it hadn’t been for the weeds, the grandson was trying to eradicate, the grandson wouldn’t have a farm.  The weeds were lambsquarters and the only things the old homesteader and his wife had to eat during a period of severe drought many years prior.

Common lambsquarters, Chenopodium album, are a summer annual that grows to about 3 1/2 feet tall.  The leaves are light green, triangular, from 1/14 to 10 inches long and are on a long stem.  The plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds and will spread rapidly under the right conditions.  The stems are light green, erect, hairless and have varying degrees of red.  The roots are short with many small side roots and easily pulled from moist or wet ground, but can be broken off if the ground is dry.  The plant will often resprout from the broken root.  The flowers are green and inconspicuous and occur from June through September. The seeds are covered with a thin papery coating.  Lambsquarters are a close relative of red pigweed (Amaranth reflexus) and spinach. 

Common lambsquarters are very high in Vitamin A, high in Vitamin C, moderate in calcium and low in iron.  They’re also high in fiber but low in calories and fats.  Lambsquarters contain known anti-inflammatory nutrients, including Beta Carotene and Vitamin K.  They also contain carbohydrates, which may increase blood sugar levels.  Common lambsquarters are low in protein percentages but high in many amino acids.  The vitamin and mineral profile reads like a who’s who of healthful foods.

Another variety is Chenopodium giganteum, magenta spreen, giant lambsquarters or quelites in Spanish.  We’ve had seven foot plants growing in our rich garden soil.  They make good shade and windbreaks, as well as being great in salads or when lightly steamed.  Magenta spreen is also a close relative to spinach and is very showy with magenta, purple, lilac and green leaves.  We planted a row on the west side of one garden for wind protection a year ago.  Although considered rare, we now have a carpet of small colorful leaves growing in most of the yard and out next to the road.
A native of India, magenta spreen is cultivated in China and other Asian countries as well as Europe.  Even though there are other chenopodiums native to the Americas, magenta spreen isn’t one of them.

Magenta spreen is rich in vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Like other chenopodiums, spinach, chard and a number of other vegetables, magenta spreen contains oxalic acid. Some people are hesitant to eat spinach and other crops containing oxalic acid because they’ve heard it prevents assimilation of calcium and iron. The malabsorption of calcium and iron is limited to the crops that contain oxalic acid and doesn’t prevent the assimilation of minerals in other foods we may eat.