Goosefoot

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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 Number Major Reference Family Genus and Species Iowa Culture
13AM403 Powell, 2005 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri MW/LW/O
13AM404 Powell, 2005 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri LMW/LW/O
13AM405 Powell, 2005 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri O
13BV1 Jones, 1993 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri MC
13CF101/102 Asch and Green, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. EW/MW/LW
13CK15 Jones, 1993 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri MC
13CK21 Adair, 2010 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. MC
13DA110 Dunne, 1995 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri GO
13DA264 Asch, 1996 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri GO
13DB497 Powell, 2002 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri TLW
13LA12 Dunne, 2002; Hodgson, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri MW/ELW
13LA38 Asch and Green, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri LA/MW/LW
13LA152 Dunne, 1997 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri LA/EW
13LA309 Powell, 2001 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri LW
13LE110 Zalucha, 1999 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri O
13LE117B Zalucha, 1999 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri ELW
13LE327 Zalucha, 1999 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri W
13MA209 Asch and Green, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. O
13ML102 Adair, 2010 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. G
13ML126 Adair, 2010 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. G
13ML129 Adair, 2010 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. G
13ML176 Asch and Green, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. G
13ML361 Green and Billeck, 1993 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri G
13ML429 Adair, 2010 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. G
13OB4 Adair, 2010 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. MC
13PK183 Asch and Green, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri LW/GO
13PM1 Adrain, 2003 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri ssp. Jonesianum MC
13PM25 Adrain, 2003 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri GO
13PM40 Asch and Green, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium boscianum A
13PM91 Asch and Green, 1992 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. MW/ELW
13WD88 Dunne, 2005 CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium berlandieri GO

 

Key
A Archaic
LA Late Archaic
EW Early Woodland
MW Middle Woodland
LMW Late Middle Woodland
ELW Early Late Woodland
LW Late Woodland
TLW Terminal Late Woodland
GO Great Oasis
MC Mill Creek
G Glenwood
O Oneota

Photographs of goosefoot and seeds

Photographs of goosefoot and seeds

 

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