Pigweed is an annual great leafy green vegetable that many gardeners love to hate as it tends to show up in gardens uninvited. This wild edible can be a beneficial weed as well as a companion plant serving as a trap for leaf miners and some other pests; also, it tends to shelter ground beetles (which prey upon insect pests) and breaks up hard soil for more delicate neighbouring plants. Because of its valuable nutrition, some farmers grow amaranth today.
Distinguishing Features: The stem of the pigweed is what makes this plant so distinctive. Stems are erect, and can grow anywhere from 10 cm - 2 m high, but usually 50 - 90 cm, simple or branched, lower part thick and smooth, upper part usually rough with dense short hair, greenish to slightly reddish but usually red near the roots.
Flowers: The flowers are small, green and crowded into coarse, bristly spikes at the top of the plant. Smaller spikes are located in the leaf axils below.
Leaves: The leaves are alternate on the stem, long-stalked, and range from dull green to shiny or reddish green. The leaf blade is oval to diamond-shaped, but is usually broader at the base. The margins of the leaves are smooth. The tips of the leaves are pointed or sometimes slightly notched.
Height: Pigweed can grow to 2 metres high.
Habitat: Pigweed is generally found in gardens, cultivated or abandoned fields.
Edible parts: Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach, sautéed, etc. Pigweed has a mild flavour and is often mixed with stronger flavoured leaves. Fresh or dried pigweed leaves can be used to make tea. The seed is very small but easy to harvest and very nutritious. The flavour is greatly improved by roasting the seed before grinding it. Pigweed seed can be ground into a powder and used as a cereal substitute, it can also be sprouted and added to salads. The seed is very small but easy to harvest and very nutritious.
Similar plants: Lambs Quarters.