Humans just can’t get enough of these bland little seeds

Chenopodium or just plain goosefoot is a prolific and persistent weed in our gardens and yards. While pulled from the crops with vengeance every spring, this plant served as a major source of food for prehistoric Native Americans. A domesticated variety of this genera appeared in eastern Kentucky by 1700 B.C. and spread into the Ohio and Scioto valleys as a ready source of starch for Woodland era populations. Evidence indicates that wild varieties were heavily targeted during the previous Archaic period and this intensive use likely lead to its domestication. Chenopodium fell from favor around 1000 AD as corn rose in prominence. A domesticated variety is commercially produced in South America and is known to most of us as Quinoa. What led to the demise of this little, prolific plant that played such a major role in the development of agriculture and sedentism during the first century? Corn is much more palatable than chenopodium, as most people will easily attest. However, my neighbor makes a pretty awesome Quinoa salad. The seeds in the photo are a wild variety (determined by the color of the seeds – black is wild, white or clear is domesticated) and most likely of the species C. ambrosiodes also known as “wormseed.” This variety found use into the historic era as an anthelmintic (a substance used to expel intestinal worms). So next time you go pulling this weed from your garden, realize that this innocuous plant was a catalyst of culture change in the prehistory of our region.