Pigweed (Amaranthus) - Nutritious? Poison? Both?

genie_wildeAugust 3, 2006

I'm getting a lot of seemingly conflicting info about pigweed's edibility or toxicity. One common variety is amaranthus retroflexus, which is prolific in my garden (though I usually pull it up). I read in another thread that it is edible and good to eat, and I am pretty sure I've come across several other references to it as a nutritious edible weed. I ate a couple of the young leaves today and they tasted kind of like corn silk.

But I've also seen many references to this plant as being toxic, even sometimes fatal to cattle. (I'm sure they ate more of it than I did, though.)

Apparently, in nutrient-rich soil, such as in cultivated lawns and gardens, this plant can accumulate toxic levels of nitrates.

Is anyone familiar with pigweed/amaranthus such that you can shed more light on this subject. This is so easy to find or grow and palatable enough that it would be a shame not to be able to use it as a salad ingredient, etc., if it's actually a good source of fiber or vitamins. On the other hand, I'm just a tad concerned about consuming something that's widely classified as poisonous. (I'm funny that way.)

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ltcollins1949(9a TX)

If you check out website amaranthus, I'm sure you can find something on it to answer your questions.

Recently I purchased a bag of amaranthus flour from The Whole Foods Store. I haven't used it yet, but am looking forward to trying it.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 2:44PM
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I'm not surprised about the Amaranthus flour, Itcollins. One thing I found on the web is that the seeds can be popped like popcorn or ground into flower, and they are not a part of the plant that is iffy like the older stems and leaves.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2006 at 2:51PM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

We have been eating the amaranth greens for two or three years and they don't seem to be hurting us. We freeze them for winter use too. A friend from Jamaica calls it "calaloo" and showed us how to prepare the stems too which I liked better than the leaves.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 8:06PM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

Maybe you are thinking of the fact that amaranth contains oxalic acid, like spinach, which prevents the calcium from being used by the body? Nutritionists generally recommend limiting greens with a high oxalic acid content. I'm sorry I don't remember excatly how much they say to eat in a weeks time. These greens with the oxalic acid are great sources of other nutrients, just don't depend on them for your calcium.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 8:10PM
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Cook the amaranth greens by boiling in water and discard the water before eating.This is how oxalic acid will be removed from leafy vegetables.It is a good sustitute for spinach. Cooked amaranth leaves taste like cooked spinach.Select the tender leaves for consumption.
People having kidney problems should stay away from green leafy veggies. because of oxalic acid.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 8:58AM
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I have eaten amaranth (pigweed) greens a lot over the years, and have never noticed any problems. They are very
nutritious and a close relative of our modern spinach, beets, etc. The Chinese use a type of amaranth (I have grown it before), and call it "Chinese spinach."
It can either be boiled or stir-fried with oil and garlic.
Also good to mix with other wild greens, like lambs quarters, curly dock, etc. I can't imagine under what situations these greens could be called poisonous.??

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 1:33AM
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I wonder if the confusion comes from the fact that there are so many kinds of Amaranth. I planted some Amaranthus hypochondriacus this season, two different varietys. They recomend harvesting thinnings and young leaves for salads, larger leaves for cooking and the seed heads can be harvested for grain. They are also quite ornamental, these giant amaranths.

I believe we have at least two different types of "weed" amaranthus that grow around here, one gets sharp spines and the other doesn't.

There are some types of plants that are quite safe in moderation though possible dangerous in high doses. There are also plants that are poisonous to one type of animal but not to others. Another source of confusion could also come from the fact that common names for plants are not standard and what one person calls pigweed might be a totally different plant than what another person calls pigweed. When using wild foods, it is good to carefully identify a plant with at least two or three sources before doing some careful testing. If all that comes out ok, then it may be safe, in moderation at first of course.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 1:59PM
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i think that the possible poison could be from its tendency to accumulate Nitrogen...which is harmful in excess...i believe it to be safe, as long as you are not eating pounds of it everyday

red streaks on the stem mean higher in nitrates...

    Bookmark   September 14, 2007 at 11:18PM
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I'm 57 and have been eating Amaranth for more than 50 of those years. If you have a problem with spinach then amaranth might bother you, or if you are taking some kind of prescriptions nitrate, otherwise don't worry.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 5:39PM
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Perhaps you referring to epazote. Epazote characterizes the taste of Mayan cuisine in the Yucatan and Guatemala. The name "epazote" comes from the Nahuatl words, epote, meaning disagreeable or foul, and epatzotl, meaning "sweat," reflecting its strong aroma.

Mexicans and Central Americans use epazote fresh in salads, soups, and meats and especially to enhance huitlacoche, mushrooms, bean- and chile-based foods such as refried beans (frijoles refritos), frijoles negros, moles, or rice and beans. It is usually added toward the end of cooking to prevent bitterness in the finished product. Spaniards flavor teas with epazote.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 6:59PM
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Aha, finally I see some of the tendency that prevents most people from eating mushrooms also affecting the situation with a plant's edibility. Apparently some of the species of the large genus Amaranthus are less easily digestible than the others. My guess is that the tender young pigweed greens are safe and even more safe if cooked. Certain people may be sensitive to them, the same people probably wouldn't be able to eat sorrel (=sour dock). When I was ~3, I once became sick from eating too much fresh sorrel leaves. But that really was an immoderate amount. Another guess is that someone somewhere consumed too much pigweed greens on an empty stomach, got sick and started spreading the word that it was toxic. That is what often happens with wild mushrooms species which are not edible raw anyway.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 1:07PM
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My mother in law eats these all the time. It is poisonous to some livestock, so I wonder if this is one reason why they are labeled as such? My mother in law grew a variety in China that had a purplish tone and we cooked some this summer and they were all right. They taste like spinach to me and I'm not a big fan of cooked spinach. She also says you should eat the young tender ones especially before the seed pods form. I had some neighbors that were in the nursery business and they said that the type we all had in our yards was naturalized offspring from the variety the vietnamese had grown when they had planted their gardens.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 1:18AM
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As best as I can tell, the toxicity of pigweed that most people hear about are primarily in ruminants (cows) due specifically to the plant's nitrate-absorbing qualities, and the ruminant's ability to convert nitrate into nitrite.

UPenn.edu says this about pigweed (amaranthus spp.):

Toxicity: as a salt, nitrate is toxic for ruminants at 0.5 g/kg (single oral dose). Forages containing > 0.2% nitrate and water containing > 1000 ppm are potentially toxic. Plants can accumulate 3 to 4% nitrate under appropriate conditions. Nitrate is not very toxic for monogastrics since it is not efficiently reduced to nitrite. However, nitrite is toxic for monogastrics. Unlike cyanide, nitrate does not volatilize and therefore dried forages are toxic.

Here is a link that might be useful: PigWeed

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 8:00PM
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Pigweed is commonly known as the "careless weed" and is viewed with disdane by the uninformed, such as I. It gets its name from the fact that it is a favorite of the pigs. I did not relize that humans could use it/eat it.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 1:01PM
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soaht(Central CA 9B)

What you guys called pigweed(amarathus), we Asian eat it all the time. Just use the tender leaves and tips and stir fry plain or with meats. Be warn tho, the liquid release from it will be reddish. There is one commonly cultivated variety commonly called Chinese spinach with big broad leaves that are excellent for stir frying or salad. We even eat plants in the night shade family that are known to be toxic such as the garden huckleberry of the wild and the cultivated species.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 1:46AM
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Yes, we Asians eat it all the time. Someone wrote correct, just throw away the first boil water. Known as Kach Mach ka saag.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 10:47AM
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