Plant Profile #3 – Strawberry Goosefoot
As Blue Valley Ranch stepped up its pine beetle mitigation program back in 2005, ranch staff began to see a proliferation of forb and wildflower growth in its timber treatment areas, usually 2-3 years following cutting and clean-up. Some species that are usually hard to find suddenly began showing up in abundance. Other species, like this strawberry goosefoot (Chenopodium capitatum (L.) Asch.), or strawberry blight, were not immediately recognized by anyone on the staff.
A quick check of the ranch’s herbarium confirmed that this native member of the beet family (Chenopodiaceae; the plant is also sometimes called beet-berry) has always been present on Blue Valley Ranch. As an annual, new plants simply found perfect growing conditions in the ground disturbed by a forestry clear-cut, and took advantage of the temporary release of nutrients and water, and the freedom from competition with other perennials.
The berries that give the plant its common name are striking, making it a favorite ornamental in gardens. You can also see that the “goosefoot” part of its name comes from the shape of the leaves. It grows quickly and is widespread across North America, although many gardeners complain that it self-sows too easily and can often become a pest.
Both the berries and the seeds are edible, providing a good source of vitamins A and C. Young leaves are often used in salads as a substitute for spinach, although, like spinach, they contain oxalic acid and should be eaten in moderation. Both the leaves and the seeds have also been used as a dermatological aid, made into a lotion to treat bruises, and the berries were supposedly used as a red dye by both Native Americans and pioneers.