Goosefoot, Lamb´s quarters

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Code: w10
Latin name: Chenopodium album
Source material: Pollen
Family: Amaranthaceae (Chenopodiaceae)
Common names: Goosefoot, Lamb’s-quarters, Common lamb’s quarters, Lambsquarter, White goosefoot
See also: Quinoa (C. quinoa) f347
Note: This plant is sometimes called Pigweed but needs to be differentiated from Common Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus).

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Goosefoot originated in Europe but is now found throughout the world.
Goosefoot is an annual herb varying from 30 cm to 2 m in height. The stems are erect, smooth, longitudinally grooved, and often red, purple or light-green striped. Chenopodium comes from the Latin for “goose foot”, which describes the shape of the leaves. The leaves are 2.5 to 8 cm long, stalked, smooth, and covered with tiny white mealy particles/scales, particularly on the lower surface. Occasionally the plant may have purple leaf bases. The entire plant is covered with varying amounts of a waxy substance, giving a light-green appearance.

The flowers are inconspicuous: green, and without petals. These flowers are found in dense clusters at the tips of branches and at the top of the stem. Goosefoot flowers throughout the summer but predominantly in the autumn, producing abundant pollen. A full-grown plant can give off as many as 20,000 pollen grains. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by wind. The tiny seeds are disc-shaped with a notch. They are glossy black, brown or brownish-green, 1.2 to 1.6 mm in diameter, and ripen from August to October.

Goosefoot is found in open habitats, rubbish tips and cultivated fields, and especially on rich soils and old manure heaps. Chenopodium species are tolerant of salty soils. They do not grow in the shade.
Members of the Amarantaceae and Chenopodiaceae families, e.g., Russian thistle (Salsola kali-pestifer) and Lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album), survive in aggressive climatic conditions such as dry summers and mild winters. These species are also cultivated in desert countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates, as a part of the greening ground programs or to avoid erosion of drained zones. They are also spreading throughout areas of the United States and temperate regions of southern Europe (1).

Chenopod has been reported to cause allergy in desert countries were it is well adapted (2-5). A significant feature of chenopod sensitivity is its concomitant appearance with other pollinoses and probably explains the little attention that this allergy has received (1,6-7).

Unexpected exposure
The leaves and seeds of all members of this genus are more or less edible. They can be cooked and eaten as a spinach substitute, or dried. The seed can be dried and ground into a meal, eaten raw, baked into a bread, or added as a supplement to grain flour. The ground seeds can also be used as medication.

However, many of the species in this genus contain saponins, though usually in quantities too small to do any harm. The plants also contain some oxalic acid. In nitrogen-rich soils, the plants can also concentrate hydrogen cyanide.

Although an allergen with a molecular weight of 35 kDa has been islolated, allergens from Goosefoot have not been fully characterised (7-8).

The following allergens have been characterised:

  • Che a 1, a 17 kDa protein, a trypsin inhibitor (9-13).
  • Che a 2, a 14 kDa protein, a profilin (9-11,14-16).
  • Che a 3, a 10 kDa protein, a polcalcin (calcium-binding protein) (9,15-18).

Seventy seven percent of sera from patients allergic to Chenopod pollen were reactive to Che a 1 (13).

Allergen-specific IgE to Che a 2 and Che a 3 were shown to be prevalent in 55% and 46% respectively, of 104 Goosefoot-allergic individuals (15).

A 2S albumin protein has been isolated from Chenopodium album seeds and is antigenically homologous to proteins of similar molecular weight in seeds of certain other members of Chenopodiaceae and Amaranthaceae. Chenopodium 2S albumin is, however, antigenically unrelated to the low-molecular-weight albumins of dicots belonging to other families (19). Whether 2S albumin protein is present in pollen from this plant has not been determined.

Potential cross-reactivity

An extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus could be expected, as well as to a certain degree among members of the family Chenopodiaceae (20).

Atriplex latifolia, Beta vulgaris, Salsola kali and Amaranthus retroflexus were compared with an extract from Chenopodium album by both in vivo and in vitro methods, the results suggesting that common allergenic determinants were present (21).

Sera from individuals sensitised to White Cypress Pine, Italian cypress, Ryegrass or Birch pollen were shown to have IgE antibodies that reacted with pollens from these four species and from Cocksfoot, Couch Grass, Lamb’s quarter, Wall pellitory, Olive, Plantain and Ragweed (22).

Homologues to both Che a 1 and Che a 2 have been detected in Sugar beet pollen extract (10).

The Ole e 1-like family of proteins, which may result in varying degrees of cross-reactivity between members, comprises allergenic members (Fra e 1, Lig v 1, Syr v 1 from Oleaceae species; Pla l 1 from Plantago lanceolata; Che a 1 from C. album; Lol p 11 from Lolium perenne; and
Phl p 11 from Phleum pratense), as well as non-allergenic members such as BB18 from Betula verrucosa.(23). The amino acid sequence of Che a 1 exhibits 27-45% identity with known members of the Ole e 1-like protein family (13).

The three-dimensional structure of recombinant Che a 3 is essentially identical with that of the two EF-hand allergens from Birch pollen, Bet v 4, and Timothy grass pollen, Phl p 7, and extensive cross-reactivity between Che a 3 and Phl p 7 was demonstrated (17). Other studies have shown that Syr v 3 (Lilac tree), Ole e 3 (Olive tree), Che a 3 and Phl p 7 showed a similar IgG- and IgE-binding capacity although differences at quantitative level were observed depending on the population of patients’ sera (24).

Cross-reactivity between Black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) pollen and Goosefoot has been demonstrated (11).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions
Goosefoot pollen can induce asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis (5,25-26).

Plants from the Chenopodium genus have been shown to have the highest atopic prevalence in a desert environment in Kuwait, where 64.3% of 706 patients with allergic rhinitis aged between 6 and 64 years were sensitised to this weed’s pollen. A second, similar study in this environment reported that Chenopodium pollen was the most prevalent sensitising pollen in asthmatics, with 70.7% of 553 asthmatics sensitised. Plants from the Chenopodium genus were imported and cultivated for the purpose of ”greening” the desert (25). Further evidence for the high prevalence of atopic sensitisation to this allergen was found in the sera of 505 young adult blood donors, which were examined for specific IgE to Goosefoot, where the prevalence of sensitisation to this allergen for the entire population was shown to be 22.5% (2).

Chenopodiaceae pollen has been found in the atmosphere of Cordoba, Spain, virtually throughout the year, although its presence was continual only between April and October, with maximum concentrations detected in the summer months. Of 1,000 patients, over 8% were sensitised to this pollen (27). A similar prevalence was reported in a second study from Cordoba, where 8.42% of pollen-sensitised patients were sensitive to pollen from the Chenopodium family (28). In Comarca Lagunera, Spain, 69% of 101 patients with asthma were positive to Chenopodium on skin prick tests. This was the second most prevalent pollen allergen to which these patients were sensitised (29). Pollen from this plant has also been detected in Salamanca, Spain (30).

In a Saudi-Arabian study, Goosefoot pollen allergens were detected in a sandstorm. The authors conclude that sandstorms could contribute to the triggering of allergy symptoms in sensitised individuals (31). A second study from this country demonstrated that Goosefoot pollen is a major sensitising allergen. In 806 Saudi Arabs, Chenopodium album was the most prevalent allergen to which they were sensitised to (53%). In 241 Western expatriates (mainly North Americans) living in the area, this was the 10th most common sensitising allergen, with 24% of patients sensitised to Goosefoot pollen (3).

Other European studies have reported the significance of Goosefoot pollen (32). Sites included Athens, Greece (33), and Poland, where examination of the records of 8,576 patients with “upper airway” allergy documented hypersensitivity to weed pollen allergens in 12.5%, the most prevalent sensitisation being to Wormwood (86.2%), Mugwort (82.9%), and White goosefoot (44.3%). Hypersensitivity to grass, tree and/or shrub pollens coexisted in 85.5% (34).
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman,


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As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.