Please Call them Vegetables–and a Giveaway!

Please Call them Vegetables–and a Giveaway!

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It started with the pigweed that came up in the rose pot on the edge of my terrace. I didn’t know it was pigweed (and even “pigweed” is problematic since the common name belongs to more than one plant). But eventually I whittled down the rose-invader’s ID to Amaranthus retroflexus, and that started me thinking. Amaranth. Aztecs. Ancient grain.



Well, yes. We all know the stately ornamental plant. Statuesque, with rich color, and long tresses of flowers that yield showers of minute seeds – the pseudo-grain of old, a nutritional powerhouse.

Now regard the sprawling green weed squeezing the roots of my Abraham Darby.

At the time I spotted this weed my interest in foraging was still in its infancy, but my desire to learn about new foods was strong.  I started reading. West Indian callaloo? – a blanket term which includes the weedy Amaranths. Huh. And I remembered morogo – a comfort-food stew based on garden weeds – that my second mother, Tipsy Titoti, makes in Cape Town.

So I cooked and ate my pigweed.

I never looked back.

But I did look up. To the pots that are situated on the silvertop above our apartment, and where there is space to grow some vegetables, a blueberry, Cape gooseberries, salad leaves, and the occasional pumpkin. And pigweed? I headed straight up there and shook my pigweed seed heads about. They grew. I harvested. Cutting re-cutting their bountiful stalks.

Soon, I added lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album and spp.) to my weed menu.  In summer every year, with pigweed, it tops a southern French-style tart I bake. This year, I learned that quickweed (it grows so damn fast) or gallant soldiers (Galinsoga parviflora) is an excellent leafy green, too, and tossed it with lemony tagliatelle.  I had hated the stuff, which was constantly clogging my tomato pots, ripping up mats of soil whenever I weeded it out.  Raw, it tastes like snap peas; cooked, much like Swiss chard.

Recently, I gathered enough of these three vegetables and some handfuls of male pumpkin flowers – that’s a whole other story: male flowers: what are they good for? – to cook down into a tender mound destined to feed 60 people. I mixed in some ramp leaf oil that I made last spring, some preserved lemon and powdered sumac, and stuffed the filling into dozens and dozens of phyllo triangles as a snack for a launch party for my new book, in which weeds feature, amongst the other flora of New York and my terrace. I asked my publishers to print some menus for the party.

“Don’t mention the pigweed!” I was exorted, “No one will eat it!” So didn’t. Miffed, I listed only the lamb’s quarter, and snoot-appeal ramps.

And guess what? The phyllo stuffed with weeds disappeared within minutes, an hour ahead of the pork rillettes and the avocado cream. There weren’t even any crumbs left.  Poof.

You could argue that anyone would eat anything folded into a buttery sheet of crispy pastry. Cucumber beetles, even.

But I say it’s because these weeds taste good.

And it’s time to take the pig out that weed. This is a vegetable that deserves a name with respect.

Personally, I vote for “garden Amaranth.”

Do you have a better name for pigweed?  Post it in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of 66 Square Feet – A Delicious Life .


Marie Viljoen blogs daily about gardening, foraging and eating. She teaches at The Brooklyn Botanic Garden and writes for magazines and newspapers about plants and the people who eat them.

Her new book is 66 Square Feet – A Delicious Life (Stewart, Tabori and Chang), inspired by the author’s blog, named after the size of the author’s tiny terrace


Posted by

Marie Viljoen
on September 11, 2013 at 5:57 am, in the category Books, Drink This, Eat This, Feed Me, Guest Rants.

    • Thad
    • 23rd October 2016

    Why not just call it common amaranth or red-root amaranth? Pigweed is not the only common name for it.

    • Azida Awang
    • 31st October 2016

    we here (in Malaysia) called it Bayam which the same species of spinach.

    • Mary Smiley
    • 14th November 2016

    The “other” spinach.

    • Natalia
    • 15th November 2016

    How very cool – looks a cross between red watercress and mint. Love the pizza you made with the pigweed. I somewhat like the name pigweed, although I see where you’d like to re-name it so it doesn’t contain the word “weed” in it and people feel it’s a bit more of a friendlier herb. I agree with Thad – red-root amaranth suits it.

    • MaryW
    • 15th November 2016

    Weeds are weeds, unless they aren’t. Amaranth Delicioso

    • HeatherM
    • 15th November 2016

    Italians are renowned for being passionate about their food so I think I would call this humble little weed ‘Amaranto’

    • Ray Eckhart
    • 15th November 2016

    A weed is “…a plant, whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” – Emerson.

    • Laura Bell
    • 15th November 2016

    I don’t have a problem w pigweed. But for those who do, how about something like salad amaranth, spinach amaranth, wild amaranth? Or just use the Latin.

    • Paula
    • 15th November 2016

    I like Garden Amaranth- the ancient grains are popular now, so more people can identify with Amaranth and I have a better chance of feeding it to them!

    • JenniferL
    • 16th November 2016

    I like garden Amaranth or salad Amaranth, both have names suggesting they were grown on purpose to be eaten. Rather than “hey, this weed looks tasty. Let’s try it!”

    • Jackie
    • 16th November 2016

    Man, I’ve been pulling those out of my gardens for years. I read somewhere that they are also called wild-beet amaranth. I love phyllo triangles, may give your recipe a try.

    • Of Gardens
    • 16th November 2016

    How wonderful! If life gives you lemons, make lemonade and if your garden gives you “weeds” cook ’em and eat ’em. I will have to get your book and learn more about which weeds to cook, and which to compost.

    • admin
    • 16th November 2016

    Lucky you. My strange weed was poke weed. Crazy looking but kinda cool in a different way. The leaves are suppose to be edible at a certain stage of development, but everything else is poisonous. I dug it up so my grandkids won’t try the berries.

    • Marie Viljoen
    • 17th November 2016

    Yes, pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)! I eat it a couple of times in the spring, when the shoots are young. Very good vegetable.

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