When I was a kid, people didn't use so much chemicals as nowadays. Weeds were growing everywhere, especially on damp fields. Some of those weeds were growing even in our block's garden and in the park. It wasn't such a great care for keeping nature clean of weeds - or, maybe, this was the purpose, of keeping the nature as it was. Be as it may, the weed I am going to write about, was anywhere I would have looked!
My grandpa used to teach me which plant was which, so I grew up knowing almost all the weeds in the surroundings. He told me that redroot pigweed was very much used as food for the ducks and pigs and that's where its name came from. Also, poor people used to make a sour soup with Romanian borsh with this plant and some other plants they picked up from the field. Redroot pigweed's common name in Romanian is 'stir' which means something very dry - probably, coming from the plant's resistance to drought.
Amaranthus retroflexus is an annual edible plant from the Amaranthaceae family, native to tropical America. It is also called redroot pigweed, not only because of its fodder use, but also because its taproot is really red. Stems are numerous on an adult plant and have small hairs all over - same on the diamond-shaped leaves. Flowers are numerous, at the end of each tip and are gathered in multi-branched spikes. Male and female flowers are on the same plant. Female flowers matures into a dry capsule, each containing a single black seed inside. But those are about 200,000 on each mature plant! [1] Maybe that's why it was called 'amarantus' which means immortal in Greek - because they cannot die - having so many seeds! [2] This is the only thing I kept in my mind ever since my grandpa told me about this plant, that it is a very bad weed, which spreads very fast and it is invasive, dangerous for other plants, not to mention the crops on the field. Maybe that's why it has been considered more like a weed lately and not like a valuable fodder, as it used to be.

Most of the Amaranthus species have been used for food and, also, for medical purpose, since ancient times. Aztecs used to cultivate it both for food and medical use. They are currently cultivated in many countries, such as China, Nepal, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexic and some of the African countries. Amaranthus seeds were, but are now more and more used as pseudocereals, because of their properties, especially because they are gluten-free.[3]
Now I realize that, what my husband told me about the redroot pigweed, was an amazing information. He grew up at his grandparents in the countryside and knows a lot of stories and things about farm animals and birds. He told me that the red pigweed was also used as an antibiotic for geese and ducks. His grandparents used to ground parts of the plant and feed the baby geese and ducks with that natural antibiotic, to avoid future illness. They actually stuffed the ground plant into the birds throat! Maybe that's why aviar flu never existed back then!
This isn't just a story, it's a true fact, because our ancestors really treated and nurtured their farm animals and birds with this plant. Recent studies about the Amaranthus species are proving that these plants are not just weeds or only fodder, but also very good remedies for human illnesses too, including cancer. All Amaranthus plants contain minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, amino acids, flavonoids, alcaloids, carotenoids and many others.[2]
Knowing these, it's strange that people are trying to eradicate these plants, instead of growing them. I'm glad to hear about the baby steps some are making in rediscovering the therapeutical potential of the Amaranthus plants.


But I also have to give credit to those who are afraid of these invasive plants, which can really kill a crop. I used to fight the redroot pigweed when I was caring for the block's garden, years ago. I had to weed a lot at first and most of the weeds were redroot pigweed plants. I've never seen one in years, ever since I moved into the countryside - what an irony! But, last summer, I found it again in my garden. I had bought some dry horse manure and spread it over my vegetable garden. I had some weeds popping out after that and when I started to weed, I recognized the redroot pigweed - not that I missed it! Lots of small plants were growing all over and, since I knew how it looked like, I could stop it from growing. But some of the seeds might have managed to stay in there - or maybe I forgot to dug out some - because I still had lots of them this year too. That was a good thing only for writing this article and for taking a few pictures of the plants, but as soon as I didn't need them anymore, I dug them all out. They can be tricky though, because - if the root doesn't come out - the plant starts growing again and this is how it can sneak out, without my knowledge. A spike full of seeds is enough to fill my garden with redroot pigweeds again!
But it is reassuring to know that this plant is edible and that our grandparents used to eat it in a soup. If I would ever find too many red pigweed plants in my garden again, I might make a sour soup with borsh, although I can't promise you that my husband will eat it!

[1] - http://articles.extension.org/pages/68434/redroot-pigweed-amaranthus-retroflexus-smooth-pigweed-a-hybridus-and-powell-amaranth-a-powellii

[2] - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2314808X17302166

[3] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranth