|Goosefoot or Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium berlandieri Moq.) 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.
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