Pigweed or Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) is a genus of plants native to Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. It’s very well-known in Albania, especially in the South areas, as locals use it for salads. It can grow in many soil types, and most if not all members of the genus have edible leaves, roots, seeds. This article of AgroWeb.org, focuses on the Albanian variety of Amaranthus. It is Native to warm regions of Albania, but being a self-sowing annual which has seeds that can overwinter in cold climates it has naturalized in many other regions.

Edibility and Culinary Use
As mentioned before Amaranth has edible roots, leaves and seeds. They are prepared in many different ways. Roots can be cut up and cooked as a vegetable, steamed or boiled. The leaves are eaten in many ways. Raw, cooked, dried and ground up, soups, stews, and salads. They taste very good, I like them better than spinach. They have a mild taste all their own with no bitterness or bad aftertaste. Although Amaranthus retroflexus has edible seeds, they are small and difficult to harvest. Other species are used primarily for seeds namely Amaranthus caudatus.

Health Benefits
Amaranth has many health benefits as an alternative grain, though it is not a true grain it is referred to as a pseudograin. One major health benefit is that it is gluten free. It is also rich in protein and the essential amino acid lysine. The leaves are very nutritious being high in many vitamins and minerals including B Vitamins, Manganese, Vitamin C, and many others.

Antioxidant Activity
Most people pay attention to amaranth because of its high protein content, making it a crucial nutrient source for certain cultures, but there has been new research revealing that amaranth also contains a certain peptide that has also been identified in soybeans that can reduce inflammation in the body and even prevent the activity of free radicals that can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells. This lesser-known benefit of amaranth is one of the most exciting new developments in recent amaranth research. This anti-inflammatory molecule can also help to alleviate conditions like arthritis, gout, and other inflammation-related issues.

Cardiovascular Health
The dietary fiber mentioned above also helps to balance cholesterol in the body by eliminating “bad” cholesterol from the cardiovascular system. Furthermore, amaranth contains a huge amount of vitamin K, which is a well known booster for heart health. Finally, the potassium content in amaranth helps to lower blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels and reducing the strain on the cardiovascular system, thereby lowering the chances of developing atherosclerosis. The high content of phytosterols found in amaranth also contribute to a reduction in “bad” cholesterol.

Cautions
Amaranth contains oxalic acid which can aggravate some health issues including kidney stones. It also is best grown without fertilizer, which is one reason why it is such a good crop. Grown with fertilizer or in high nitrogen soils it can accumulate high amounts of nitrates which can cause a number of health problems.

Conclusion
Amaranth is an ancient food that should be brought back into main stream, and is slowly gaining popularity again in Albania. It’s easy to grow, harvest and is extremely healthy. Many cultures around the world have held on to amaranth as an important food. It can be identified by its reddish stem base and unique flower and seed stalk./AgroWeb.org