Monsanto’s Superweed, the Ancient Superfood

“The superweeds are coming! The superweeds are coming!” This has been the environmental community’s adamant cry ever since international agribusiness decided to throw our crops into a clingy, interdependent relationship with Roundup. Well, we might need a less outdated banner, because that particular winter isn’t coming, it’s here. After sustaining agriculture with a steady drip of the same small pools of chemical welfare, we’ve finally bred superweeds. However, the situation might not be quite as dismal as it seems. Thanks to one of Monsanto’s scourges, “pigweed,” we might have a new slogan. “Eat the weeds!”

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Amaranth, long derided by Monsanto as a superweed, might just probide the answer to society’s agricultural issues. Photo Credit: amanoo 002 via photopin (license)

Before “pigweed” became an agricultural pest and a pain in Monsanto’s side, with articles of long, denouncing exposition terming its lovely nickname, even prior to its Latin title, Amaranth was cultivated by the Aztecs under the name huauhtli. Beyond simply being a dietary staple for Aztec peoples, it was used for tribute payment, and was also a spiritual symbol in many cultural ceremonies. Nonetheless, during Spanish colonization, cultivation of it became banished due to its spiritual significance, and amaranth was largely lost to the world as a crop. Even so, throughout the years it maintained a place in wild edible guidebooks and Central American backyard gardens, until a look into the nutritional benefits of Amaranth firmly earned it a place in the health foods community.

Compared to most commercial grains, (gluten-free) Amaranth grain contains higher levels of more digestible protein, three times as much fiber, and two additional amino acids. However, unlike most grains, every inch of Amaranth is edible, providing greens with a flavor and nutritional content similar to spinach.  Together, the wide assortment of micronutrients within Amaranthus family of plants, namely, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, carontenoids, lysine and vitamins A and K, promote vision, cardiovascular, digestive, bone, and hair health. So given the wholesome benefits and bounty Amaranth, weed or not, it raises some questions as to why it hasn’t been commercialized. Is it not viable for large scale agriculture? Would there be no demand for it? Does the grain taste even worse than wheatgrass?

Well, while taste is a subjective matter, Amaranth comes highly praised for both its flavor and marketable yields. A quick search for “amaranth products” and you can get enough health-food-sold grain to become a qualified doomsday prepper. Furthermore, the largest market for Amaranth, a predominantly foreign cultivation for cosmetic oils, is estimated to become $700.6 million market by 2019. Yet, having designated Amaranth a novelty that belongs only on the shelves of health food stores, we have yet to truly utilize it as a resource. Despite being a well-researched and beneficial ingredient for livestock feed, as well as a nutritious green and root vegetable, Amaranth remains a largely untapped market in the United States.

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Nevertheless, the Amaranthus family will likely remain more recognized as an agricultural scourge in the U.S., than as a productive, profitable and healthy mainstream crop. Granted, Amaranth is a very real scourge to crops such as corn and cotton, but with the pen being as mighty as it is — particularly with the weight of a ton of money applying the pressure — it might’ve stabbed a bit too deeply. Agricultural affliction though it may be, the very drought-resistance and versatility that enabled more than a dozen native species of Amaranth in the U.S. and more than 60 throughout the world to flourish, is what makes it such a viable mainstream crop. But regardless of the promise for this chemical-dependence-threatening “superweed,” and despite it hardly being the most malignant cancer in agribusiness, such will surely be the conclusion of Amaranth’s ancient legacy if written in chemical ink. 

To find out more, here is some further reading…