Table of Contents

Goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri Moq.)

Goosefoot or Lamb’s Quarters is one of a number of wild varieties belonging to the genus Chenopodium found in eastern North America today. It occurs in fields, gardens, waste areas, and forest edges, and thrives in full sun and partial shade. It sprouts easily from seed, does not require orderly cultivation, and may reach a height of eight feet. It begins to flower in June and fruits thereafter. Another burst of flowering and fruiting from a second crop may occur in late summer or early fall.

Chenopodium was important and widely grown throughout prehistoric North America, although its origin as a native plant or one introduced from Mexico is unclear. Recent evidence suggests the former. The oldest archaeologically documented domesticated Chenopodium seeds in eastern North America come from two rockshelters in Kentucky and date 3800 years ago.

Goosefoot is widely reported in abundance at archaeological sites in Iowa from Late Archaic through Woodland times. Only maize occurs more frequently. Late Archaic features at Sand Run West (13LA38) and Terminal Archaic and Early Woodland features at the Gast Spring site (13LA152), dating 2,800 to 3,000 years ago, produced domesticated goosefoot. It remained an important crop for later prehistoric economies, even after the introduction of corn. Domesticated Chenopodium makes up 50 to 90 percent of identifiable small seeds found in late prehistoric Great Oasis and Mill Creek sites.

Early peoples ate both the nutritious starchy seeds and leaves of Chenopodium. Young plants are edible as greens in early summer, the tips of the plant until midsummer. The greens are a rich source of vitamin A, thiamine, and riboflavin. The seeds—parched, roasted, or boiled—provide high amounts of carbohydrates and minor amounts of fats and proteins. Ceramic cooking pots appear in the archaeological record at about the same time as cultivated plants like goosefoot— probably no coincidence. The seeds from early starchy and oily-seeded cultigens required extended cooking to make them more edible. Historic tribes dried, cooked, and ground goosefoot seeds into flour to make a bread and thickener for soup or stew.

Although goosefoot is frequently reported at Iowa sites, early identifications still pose problems of classification. Only instances where researchers identified seeds to genus and species, or expressed confidence that the archaeological specimens likely represented cultivated or domesticated forms, are listed on the table and at the site locations shown on the map.

Major References

Adrain, Tiffany S. 2003
Asch, David L. and William Green 1992
Dunne, Michael T. 1997
Dunne, Michael T. and Green, William 1998
Green, William and Shelly Gradwell 1995
Jones, Douglas W. 1993
Lopinot, Neal H. 1987
Smith, Bruce 1996

Map of Iowa with yellow-purple dots that indicate prehistoric sites known to have cultivated goosefoot
Iowa Sites
Site NumberMajor ReferenceFamilyGenus and SpeciesIowa Culture
13AM403Powell, 2005CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriMW/LW/O
13AM404Powell, 2005CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriLMW/LW/O
13AM405Powell, 2005CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriO
13BV1Jones, 1993CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriMC
13CF101/102Asch and Green, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.EW/MW/LW
13CK15Jones, 1993CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriMC
13CK21Adair, 2010CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.MC
13DA110Dunne, 1995CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriGO
13DA264Asch, 1996CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriGO
13DB497Powell, 2002CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriTLW
13LA12Dunne, 2002; Hodgson, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriMW/ELW
13LA38Asch and Green, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriLA/MW/LW
13LA152Dunne, 1997CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriLA/EW
13LA309Powell, 2001CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriLW
13LE110Zalucha, 1999CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriO
13LE117BZalucha, 1999CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriELW
13LE327Zalucha, 1999CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriW
13MA209Asch and Green, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.O
13ML102Adair, 2010CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.G
13ML126Adair, 2010CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.G
13ML129Adair, 2010CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.G
13ML176Asch and Green, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.G
13ML361Green and Billeck, 1993CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriG
13ML429Adair, 2010CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.G
13OB4Adair, 2010CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.MC
13PK183Asch and Green, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriLW/GO
13PM1Adrain, 2003CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieri ssp. JonesianumMC
13PM25Adrain, 2003CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriGO
13PM40Asch and Green, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium boscianumA
13PM91Asch and Green, 1992CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium sp.MW/ELW
13WD88Dunne, 2005CHENOPODIACEAEChenopodium berlandieriGO


LALate Archaic
EWEarly Woodland
MWMiddle Woodland
LMWLate Middle Woodland
ELWEarly Late Woodland
LWLate Woodland
TLWTerminal Late Woodland
GOGreat Oasis
MCMill Creek

Photographs of goosefoot and seeds

Photographs of goosefoot and seeds


Image Credit:
Wendy and Michael Scullin
Melanie Riley and Mary Kathryn Rocheford, OSA (map)