Please Call them Vegetables–and a Giveaway!




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.

pigweed tart

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.

quickweed and pigweed

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 .

pigweed and quickweed and nice drink


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



  1. 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.

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

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

    Add Purslane, or Portulaca oleracea to your list, and the invasive weed Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) makes a fine pesto. The early shoots of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), also invasive, have a taste and texture like bamboo shoots.

    Hunt some of the invasive Rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) in Mid-Atlantic streams for some protein to add to a weedy, naturalist meal.


  4. 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!

  5. 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!” 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. I love eating invasive plants and weeds.. great way to tackle a problem (unless it is a big one!) A more environmentally friendly way to take care of weeds.

  10. Guess I’ll stop pulling the pigweed out of my garden! I assume you’d just harvest and eat the leaves, not the bushy flower/seed heads or the stalks? Or do you just boil all of it? Meanwhile, I have a bunch of pumpkin flowers in bloom outside my house… I assume you could also fry those up like zucchini blossoms…

    • Hi Lisa – I use the tender seedheads too, when the seeds that fall from them are still green. (Also cook with small amount of water till just tender, refresh with cold water and squeeze out. Then I saute them gently with some olive oil, say.)

      The pumpkin blossoms can be wilted in a pan with lid on it. Squeeze fo emon, maybe? Personally, I find them too fiddly to stuff. And yes, anything responds well to a tempura batter and frying!

  11. Love this article! I’m going to have to get the book. I like Garden Amaranth & red-root amaranth, but how about Veggie Amaranth? That’s what it is, after all.

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