Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

or On Pigging Out

You will never catch me saying in public that I like to eat pigweed.  Not even in private.  I don’t even think it in private. 

Burgundy Amaranth seedlings
On the other hand, I would love to drop into casual conversation, “Amaranth?  Oh, yes, one of my favorites.  Lightly sautéed with just a soupçon of garlic and a little spritz of lemon—or perhaps with a béchamel sauce—it’s too, too mahvelous, dahling.”
Amaranth.  The word just rolls off the tongue.  It evokes sundrenched climes, pungent spices, complicated and subtle cuisines.  Mmm.

redroot amaranth
Pigweed is (believe it or not) a weed that happens to be good fodder for pigs.  Amaranth, on the other hand, is a highly edible plant much loved in warm climates, its leaves eaten raw or cooked in stews, its seeds prized for their nutty flavor and nourishing goodness.  The seeds have a nearly complete amino acid profile, making amaranth a valuable source of protein—in fact, it boasts more protein than wheat.  The leaves are rich in more vitamins and minerals than you could possibly want to hear me enumerate (just trust me, they’re there).  Amaranth grows well in hot weather and needs minimal water, making it an invaluable summer green in a place like Albuquerque.  And as an added bonus, it’s an incredibly easy plant to grow.  It grows almost like a—well, like a weed.

By an astonishing coincidence, the Latin name for our local, native pigweed is Amaranthus retroflexus, otherwise known as redroot amaranth.  (Bet you saw that coming from a long way off, didn’t you, gentle reader?)  It flourishes in vacant lots and disturbed places and incites people to roll their eyes and make irritated sounds if it grows in their neighbors’ yards.

Tiger-Eye Amaranth seedlings
One of my neighbors, who is not overburdened with the domestic virtues (but who is otherwise a lovely person), has had it growing in her weed-patch of a yard for several years, where it casts its thousands of seeds far and wide.  I roll my eyes and make irritated sounds at it, and this summer, when I found it coming up in one of my containers, I came very close to uprooting it.  Fortunately, a little irony came along and smacked me between the eyes just in the nick of time.  The very day I was about to yank out the pigweed, I was also planning to plant Burgundy and Tiger-Eye Amaranth (note the capital letters—they make all the difference) from seeds I had purchased from a pricey little heirloom seed catalogue…
redroot amaranth
I decided to leave the redroot amaranth (as we shall now call it, though alas, without the capitals), and it’s actually turned out to be a beautiful plant.  Granted, it’s growing in good soil and getting regular water, so it’s probably more attractive than it would otherwise be, but its coloring and symmetry are wonderfully ornamental.  I just harvested six cups of leaves from it.  And dahling, sautéed with a soupçon of garlic and a little spritz of lemon, it was too, too mahvelous.  (But you will never catch me serving it with a béchamel sauce.)


  1. Yes, but do you have just a bit of melon and prosciutto to go with it? :)
    xoxo kathy, who has no profile...

  2. Kathy, I had forgotten all about melon and prosciutto! (How did that happen?!) Oh, my--believe it or not, that would go perfectly...

  3. I think I have wild amaranth growing in my garden, but, how can I be sure that it is edible amaranth?? I so enjoyed reading this post. Came via Garden Rant.

  4. Oh, dear—I'm afraid I'm not up on South African amaranths at all... :) From what I've read, if it's amaranth, it's edible (though best cooked), but please don't take my word on that! Thank you so much for stopping by.

    Btw, did you have a lovely photo posted on Gardening Gone Wild's photo challenge last month?

  5. I did try with a photo of an aloe. I answered the challenge, but it wasn't photographerly enough for the judge ;>)

  6. I harrumph on your behalf, EE. :)