What Is Pigweed?

Pigweed (Urtica dioica) is a common weed found growing all over the world. It grows naturally in temperate regions, but it can also be cultivated and grown commercially. The plant is native to North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. It was introduced into Australia during European settlement in the 19th century. It has been used medicinally since ancient times in India and China.

The herb is also known as:

Cabbage-leaf, Chinese cabbage, Indian cabbage, Japanese cabbage, Korean cabbage, Portuguese cabbage and Russian cabbage.

History Of Pigweed Use For Medicinal Purposes

In ancient Egypt and Greece there were many herbal remedies used for treating various ailments including cancer. One such remedy was called ‘Kombucha’. Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from sugarcane juice. The drink contains several compounds which have anti-cancer properties.

Another ancient remedy was called ‘pork’ or ‘lamb’s blood’. Pork is one of the most popular meats eaten in the world today. It can be cured, smoked, fried, braised and boiled with other foods to make delicious dishes like pork chops or sausages. Lamb is the flesh of a young sheep.

When a sheep is born, it is called a lamb until it reaches one year old. After that, it is referred to as a hogget or yearling sheep.

Lamb’s blood was used in pastries and cakes as a way of drawing out toxins from the body. It was believed that these toxins caused common diseases like colds and flus. It was also believed that these toxins caused other long-term conditions including cancer.

There is little evidence to suggest that kombucha has any positive effects on human health, however, it is still popular in several Eastern European and Asian countries. There is not enough evidence to suggest that ‘pork’ or ‘lamb’s blood’ can be used to successfully cure diseases.

The first written reference to pigweed dates back to the year 2800BC in China. There is a carving in an ancient tomb which depicts farmers sowing and harvesting pigweed. It appears to have been used by the Egyptians for medicinal purposes as well. Studies have shown that pigweed has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to help reduce swelling and pain.

It was also used by Native Americans who inhabited the North American continent before it was colonized by the British. It is unknown why Native Americans used pigweed as an antidote for poison, but it is thought that the leaves were used to treat bee stings.

The herb can also be used to make beer and wine, which is thought to help aid digestion. It is important to note that not all pigweed is safe for human consumption. The leaves and stems of some varieties contain toxic compounds. It is best to check with your doctor before using any herb medicinally, even pigweed.

Some pigweed species are used as a food crop in various parts of the world. For example, the species known as ‘amaranth’ is cultivated for human consumption in some Asian countries. It is also high in several important vitamins and minerals and can be eaten raw or cooked in recipes. The leaves of amaranth can be eaten like spinach, for example.

In some regions, pigweed is even used as an animal feed.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses from our website

A Clear Distinction Between The Common Mustard And The Pigweed Mustard

Both the common brown mustard and the wild pigweed are members of the cruciferous family of plants. Other types of cruciferous plants include broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, radishes and wasabi.

Cruciferous vegetables contain a number of important vitamins and minerals in them, such as Vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium. They also contain glucosinolates. These are sulfur-based organic compounds which give cruciferous vegetables their bitter taste.

Mustard powder is made by grinding the seeds of the common brown mustard plant. When the seeds are ground up, they produce a paste which can be used as a condiment, such as in mustard sandwiches. It can also be used to make spicy sauces which are eaten with meats such as ham, chicken and lamb.

The wild pigweed mustard plant produces seeds which are not used for food, but the leaves and stems of the plant can be eaten in various cooked dishes. They can also be made into a paste similar to that of the common brown mustard. This paste is called ‘mustard greens’ and is a popular vegetable among certain sections of the world’s population. ‘Mustard greens’ are commonly eaten in the Southern United States, for example.

In North America, the term ‘mustard’ is more commonly used to describe the common brown mustard plant. The other types of mustards referred to in this article are usually referred to as ‘cruciferous vegetables’.

Some More Interesting Facts About The Common Mustard:

The common brown mustard is thought to have originated in southern Europe, specifically in the Mediterranean region.

In Europe and North America, the leaves and stems of this plant have been eaten both cooked and raw as a leaf vegetable. The seeds have also been used to make a paste or prepared like mustard.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses at igrowplants.net

Powdered mustard dates back to at least 800 B.C.E. in England.

The ancient Romans used ground mustard seeds as a food preservative as well as a flavoring. They also used it as a medicine.

During the Middle Ages, people believed mustard to have medicinal properties and it was thought to help heal wounds as well as soothe the pain from bee stings.

Mustard was brought to North America by the earliest settlers who used the seeds as both a food flavoring and a medicine.

In 1790, the first commercial preparation of mustard was made in France by a man named Jean Naigeon. He mixed ground mustard seeds with wine and added some other ingredients to improve the flavor.

In 1856, a man named Henry J. Mustard started producing and marketing prepared mustard in the United States.

In 1866, American pharmacologist John Abel patented the first prepared yellow mustard. He called it ‘Colman’s Mustard’ and it is still available today.

The word ‘mustard’ comes from the old Roman word ‘mustum ardens’ which means ‘burning wine’.

The seeds of the common brown mustard plant contain a chemical called sinigrin which turns into allyl isothiocyanate when crushed. Allyl isothiocyanate is the chemical which gives the mustard plant its characteristic flavor. It is also what causes mustard’s ability to irritate and even burn the skin and eyes. It is the same chemical used in police-grade pepper spray.

Today, mustard is one of the most popular spices and flavor enhancers in the world.

Mustard plants are not grown from seeds, they are grown from the smallest mustard plants which look like little clusters of green grapes called ‘gemmae’. Most commercial mustard plants are grown this way because it is much faster than growing them from seeds.

In ancient times, the gemmae of the mustard plant were first made into a paste and then added to wine to help preserve it.

Mustard plants are part of the cabbage family which includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi and many others.

The term ‘mustard’ is thought to have first come into use during the 12th century. It comes from the Latin term ‘mustum ardens’ or ‘burning must’.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses - igrowplants.net

In the Middle Ages, people believed that eating too much mustard could make your skin burn. The term ‘floged with mustard’ was a popular term for being severely whipped or lashed.

In the early 1800’s, the famous French chef, Antonin Carême, created a dish called ‘Tournedos Mustard’ which is a type of filet mignon steak covered in a cream sauce flavored with mustard. It became so popular that it even had its own song written about it! It is still enjoyed today.

In the late 18th century, mustard was the most commonly used spice in America. It was so popular that it even outsold sugar.

In modern times, mustard is grown and made in several different countries. It is mainly made in Canada and Germany but also in the United States, France, England, Holland, Denmark and Poland.

There are three main types of mustard. These are white mustard, brown or Chinese mustard and black mustard. White and brown mustards are mostly grown for their seeds. Black mustard is grown for both its seeds and its leaves which are not eaten.

It takes about 34 gallons of water to grow enough mustard seeds to make just one pound of ground mustard.

The yellow mustard you put on hotdogs is actually brown mustard which has been mixed with turmeric and some sugar to give it that familiar color we all know.

In the 19th century, American mustard manufacturers began using acetic acid as a preservative and this led to a decline in German mustard factories. In response to this, German chemists had to come up with their own version of acetic acid which they did in 1853. This is what caused the decline in French mustard factories as well. This all led to more market share for the Americans.

A 2.5 ounce bottle of mustard contains approximately 2,000 seeds.

The shelf life of mustard is about 3 years past the expiration date on the bottle.

Even though it is used in most dishes, mustard was originally used as a medicine. It was recommended for everything from healing the sick to curing madness.

Before refrigeration, mustard was drank by many people to prevent them from getting sick in the winter. Drinking hot water with ground mustard seed in it was thought to be a sure way to stay healthy during the cold winter months.

Mustard is also good for you and can be used for several things other than ingestion. It is an excellent hair conditioner and has been used to take ticks off of people. It can also gets rid of warts by applying it to the area and then taking a piece of cotton and placing it over the top. As the skin around the wart turns black, it can then be peeled off.

Be careful not to let it get into any cuts though!

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses on igrowplants.net

Both France and England claimed that their mustard was the best during the Napoleonic Wars.

The word ‘mustard’ comes from the Latin word ‘mustum’ which means young wine–and it does have a sharp flavor similar to that.

There are hundreds of different types of mustards grown around the world. These different types are known by the names of their region or country such as Dijon mustard from France, English mustard from England and Japanese mustard from Japan.

The hotter types of mustards are known as mustard oil and are used as a cooking oil and a medicine. It is so pungent that, in the 15th century, knights used it in their armor to make sure that the weapons were not getting dull from being bashed against them.

When planting mustard, the ground should be plowed deeply to break up large clods of dirt.

Mustard is not grown in the same place every year and, as such, does not deplete the soil.

In ancient times, it was common to use hollow canes for planting seeds. These canes were filled with mustard seeds and placed in the holes that were previously dug with a magic wand. The practice of ‘drawing’ a circle around something dates back to these times when the circle was actually a ring of canes with the seedlings inside. Removing the canes would leave a circle that was to be kept ‘pure’.

Mustard flower is the official flower of the American State of Wisconsin. The capitols of both Wisconsin and the USA are adorned with colorful paintings and sculptures of this leafy plant.

Mustard plants grow back even stronger after being eaten by rabbits, whereas most plants tend to die after such an attack.

A popular brand of hot mustard in the United States is Gulden’s. The name comes from the Dutch ‘gulyten mostaard’, which means ‘golden mustard’.

A form of mustard was found in a 6,000 year old Swiss grave.

The Romans made a medicine of mustard seeds, wine and vinegar in 1 B.C. to help cure people of neuralgia, cold ailments and rheumatism.

During the 15th century, it became very popular to use mustard to ward off the plague.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses at igrowplants.net

During the reign of Charlemagne–King of the Franks from 768-814–mustard was recognized as a great utility as both a food and a medicine. It also became common for people to eat mustard with meat and other foods.

In the 6th century, mustard was used to raise morale among Roman soldiers. It was also considered to be a great healing agent at this time.

During the time of the Roman Empire, it was common to use mustard after one had eaten too much. This new fashion started a new use for mustard and it became very popular to put it on meat, eggs, fruit and other edibles.

In the 13th century, Marco Polo brought mustard seeds back from China and started the habit of putting mustard on hot dogs and hamburgers.

Babies have a natural attraction to the smell of mustard for some strange reason.

Mustard plants need nitrogen to grow. They get it from the air, but only in very small quantities. That’s why you have to keep the ground where you plant your seeds well prepared with organic matter like manure or compost.

If you plant too many mustard plants in one area, the plants will stunt and go to seed without producing a head.

Since it takes so long to grow the seeds into full-size plants that produce seeds, commercially prepared mustard seeds are usually made from smaller varieties of the plant that are grown for this purpose only.

The Romans and the ancient Greeks put honey on their mustards.

Honey was also used to cut the strong taste of the mustard seed when people first started using the condiment.

Garlic mustard oil was used by some Native Americans to ward off evil spirits and disease. Mustard plasters were also used by these people for healing purposes.

If you plant the seeds too deep, the plants can’t breathe and they will die. If you don’t plant the seeds deep enough, the birds will eat them.

Mustard seeds come in different colors besides yellow. Red, black and brown mustard seeds are also available at specialty stores.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses | igrowplants.net

Mustard has more calcium than milk. Mustard is also high in vitamin C.

If you put mustard on a ham sandwich, it will stop the mustard from soaking into the bread and making it soggy.

If you put mustard on your toes, it will take away the burning sensation.

If you put mustard on your wrists, it will take away a headache.

In the Middle Ages, people believed that a person who ate mustard would not be poisoned.

If you plant mustard seeds in the spring, you won’t have greens to eat in the summer or autumn. If you plant them in the summer, you won’t have greens to eat during the spring or summer. But, if you plant them in the autumn, you will have a wonderful crop of greens to eat all during the winter.

If you plant the seeds on Midsummer’s Day, you can expect a good crop.

If you put too much mustard on your food, it will act as a laxative.

During World War II, the British put mustard on their bullets so that if they missed the target it would still cause harm by burning the skin.

Thanks to Glen for this one!

If you were sentenced to execution by guillotine in France, the executioner would give you a choice of having your head chopped off in the traditional manner or having it chopped off through the use of a thin piece of sharpened steel tightly wrapped in fabric soaked in concentrated mustard oil. The latter method was said to be much quicker and less messy than the former.

If you were sentenced to death by firing squad in the United States Army, the five people that were chosen to shoot rifles at you would have their cartridges loaded not just with bullets but also with mustard powder.

If you put mustard on your hands and spread it around your eyes, it will take away the sting. It will also cause a terrible stench that can only be gotten rid of by using milk or butter.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses | igrowplants.net

If you put straight mustard on your brush, it will take the curl out of your hair.

If you put mustard in your shoe, it will cause your foot to swell up and become very uncomfortable.

If you’re holding someone else’s nose and you put mustard on their upper lip, they won’t be able to hold their breath anymore.

In the 1700s, King Frederick of Prussia had all his soldiers drink vinegar with mustard in it. The idea was that if they were ever captured by the Russians, they wouldn’t be susceptible to drinking vodka.

In 1814, during the battle of Bayonne, the French repelled a British attack by loading their cannons with mustard shells. The British suffered over four hundred casualties and retreated to their base at Vitoria.

(Side note: If you keep a tube of toothpaste upside down for around a month, some brands of toothpaste will separate into an oil and a liquid. The liquid is still good for cleaning your teeth but the oil can be used as a powerful adhesive. It’s also flammable.)

If you put fresh garlic and mustard powder in a jar and shake it up, it will keep mosquitoes away.

If you’re a POW during World War II, you can use a blade of grass or a piece of wood that has absorbed mustard to write a secret message. Since it’s yellow, you can write it on a piece of paper and nobody would be able to tell that the message wasn’t just written in yellow ink.

If you’re ever lost in a forest, you can look for onions growing wild as they typically grow close to the ground where it’s moist. You can crush the garlic and put it on your feet to repel insects that bite. If you get hungry enough, you can even eat the bulbs as a substitute for food.

During World War II, the British looked for ways to combat malaria in North Africa. They found that by adding small amounts of mustard to the soldiers’ water supplies, they could prevent the mosquitos from breeding.

In place of a painkiller, if you put mustard on your thumb and make a fist, the shot won’t hurt as much.

If you’re cooking a sausage or piece of meat and it starts to burn, you can reduce the burn marks by smearing on some mustard.

If you mix mustard with water and put it in a spray bottle, it can be used as a tear gas substitute.

During World War I, mustard gas was commonly known as “Hannibal’s Fire” due to its infamously painful effects on the human body. The name came from the Carthaginian general who famously lead his army and their elephants through the Alps and caught the Romans off guard, annihilating much of the Roman army at the battle of Lake Trasimene.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses - igrowplants.net

During World War I, France was the first country in the war to use gas on the battlefield. The Germans retaliated and both sides started using it quite often. The mustard gas of the time was not as effective as later types and was only about 20% effective. It could take several days for the blisters to develop and a lot of the damage was internal and wouldn’t be seen until years later when the victim developed breathing problems or cancer.

Before the use of gas was banned in warfare by the Geneva Protocol of 1925, many other chemicals were tried as a form of chemical warfare. Among these were chlorine, phosgene and diphosgene, hydrochloric acid, chloropicrin, benzyl cyanide, and ethyldichloroarsine.

In his book “Chemical Warfare”, Stephen L. McFarland mentions that a mixture of equal parts of peanut oil, diesel oil and sulphuric acid make a good substitute for mustard gas. If you add tar to the mixture it can be stored underwater and still remain effective.

As late as 1941, Japan was still using chemical weapons, primarily against the Chinese, but also on the island of Hong Kong. During the battle of Wuhan from 1938 to ’42, both sides were accused of launching gas attacks.

Mustard gas was also the cause of severe medical problems for thousands of American troops in 1990 when the Iraqi’s set alight more than a thousand chemical weapons filled with mustard gas that had been stored in the desert near the Kuwait-Iraq border. The plumes of smoke and gas engulfed both Iraqi and Kuwaiti troops as well as hundreds of civilian refugees who were fleeing across the border, most of whom were severely burned as a result.


Often described as smelling like the crushed mustard plant, this gas has a strong smell of onions and garlic. It is rapidly absorbed by the lungs and attacks the eyes, skin and respiratory system. This gas causes tearing, coughing, sneezing, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stinging or burning sensations and temporary blindness. The effects may last for up to two weeks and can lead to serious long term respiratory or liver damage.


Named after Colonel Frank F. Lewis, who headed the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in 1920, this gas is colourless without an odor.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses from our website

It attacks the respiratory system and causes a feeling of choking which leads to panic and breathlessness. Within minutes the victim has difficulty breathing and this increases until he stops breathing entirely and dies due to a complete shutdown of the respiratory system.


This gas was developed in Germany in 1916 and is heavier than air, with a strong smell of new-mown hay. It causes immediate massive bronchial irritation which leads to coughing up blood, vomiting and diarrhea. This is quickly followed by convulsions, coma and death due to respiratory failure within 2 to 3 hours of exposure.


This gas has a pungent smell which is familiar to most people having at some time spilled bleach on their clothing. It was used in World War I by the Germans and is readily absorbed through the skin as well as the lungs. It attacks the mucous membrane and can lead to coughing and vomiting. It also attacks the lungs and can cause deep breathing to become painful.

This pain can quickly lead to unconsciousness, shock and death.


This gas has a sweet smell and is heavier than air. The first time it was used on the battlefield, the French soldiers thought the Germans were preparing to send forth a thunderstorm when they saw the dense gray cloud rolling towards them, but as it approached they began to feel their eyes burn and their throats and lungs burn so much they could not hold their breath any longer and had to breathe in. Doing so led to them suffocating and dying.

The first recorded use of poison gas was in the year 673 B.C. when the Scythians poisoned the tip of their arrows with venom. The Romans also used poison on their arrows, while other cultures poisoned their swords and spears.

Early in the 9th century, the Arabs hurled glass bottles filled with poison at the enemy.

Other forms of poison warfare during this time included rubbing the tip of a spear or arrow with poison, releasing poisonous gas from a cauldron, and poisoning drinking water.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses | igrowplants.net

During World War I, the Germans were the first to use chemical warfare. They launched over 350,000 gas-filled shells at the Allies in an attempt to break the stalemate on the Western Front. In the face of this new form of warfare, the Allies were forced to develop their own chemical weapons. As a result, more lethal gases were created, such as phosgene, which was used by the Germans in the 2nd Battle of Ypres.

As horrible as gas warfare was, it didn’t change the course of the war. After each attack, both sides developed better masks and protection against them. The only thing that changed was the number of casualties. The introduction of the flamethrower proved to be more effective and cost efficient.


The most common chemical weapons used during World War I were chlorine and other gases used to suffocate the enemy and kill them by asphyxiation. Mustard gas, which causes blisters on the skin and mucus membrane, was discovered by German researchers. The effects of both these gases do not show themselves immediately. Shell shock was the most common ailment among soldiers on the battlefields.

Other gases used during World War I included phosgene and cyanide, which were both used in attempt to kill enemy soldiers and cause devastation to the environment. These gases caused hundreds of thousands of casualties.

The use of gas warfare declined rapidly with the invention of nuclear weapons at the close of World War II.


A more immediate effect of World War I was the spread of disease, especially the most notorious epidemic of all–the plague. The plague known as the Black Death had been brought under control in the mid-19th century, but fighting in World War I devastated the sanitary systems of Europe. The warring armies marched through areas infected with plague, then carried the disease back to their home territories.

The epidemic started in 1914, when the retreating Russian Army left bodies and supplies in its wake. The Turks, under orders to kill all enemy soldiers that fell behind, buried the Russians in a mass grave. Soon after, fleeing Armenian refugees came across the area, which they used as a camp. When they fled, they carried the plague back to Syria and Turkey.

An epidemic occurred in the Balkans in 1915, when thousands of soldiers and civilians were infected with the pneumonic plague. The most devastating plague epidemic was in China from 1911 to 1918, but it didn’t spread to other countries at that time. It re-appeared in Manchuria in 1945 and spread to Eastern Russia.

By far the worst occurrence of the plague was in India from 1917 to 1919. It is believed that the disease started when rats carrying plague-infected fleas infested a grain warehouse in Bombay. The epidemic spread to other areas of India by rats and human carriers. The British government tried to cover up the existence of the epidemic to prevent a widespread panic.

Supplies sent to areas infected with the plague were marked as ” relief supplies,” and thousands of Indians died without ever knowing what killed them.

Two American doctors in Bombay at the time, W.H. Blackley and A.V.

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses - igrowplants.net

Jackson, wrote a book about their experiences called “The Shadow of the East.” In it they state that the epidemic was a million times worse than anything they had ever seen or read about. It wiped out entire villages, killing the old and young alike. No one was left to bury the dead, and bodies piled up in the streets. The rats spread the plague by infesting the grain warehouses in the surrounding towns.

The epidemic spread to Africa, reaching as far as southern Africa, where it caused the deaths of thousands. Entire tribes were wiped out. At its peak, 100,000 Indians were infected with the plague every month. Over 12 million people died of the plague in India alone.

The last major epidemic of the Black Death occurred in the Soviet Union from 1927 to 1934, killing over 7 million people. The disease was officially eradicated in 1979.


Braudy, Leo. Documentary Empire: France and the

Age of Total War. New York: Berghahn Books, 2006.

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. New York:

Oxford University Press, 1975.

Herwig, Holger. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary

What Is Pigweed – Learn About Pigweed Plant Uses on igrowplants.net

1914-1918. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Messenger, Charles. The Persians. New York:

Blackwell, 2006.

Showalter, Dennis. Tannenberg: Clash of Empires. Hammersmith, London:

Ian All Ltd, 2006.

Vaughan, Christopher. Africa: A History. New York: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Sources & references used in this article:

Random forest and leaf multispectral reflectance data to differentiate three soybean varieties from two pigweeds by RS Fletcher, KN Reddy – Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 2016 – Elsevier

Redroot Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) by LW Mitich – Weed technology, 1997 – cambridge.org


Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus): an oxalatecontaining plant. by VL Marshall, WB Buck, GL Bell – American Journal of Veterinary …, 1967 – cabdirect.org



Comments are closed