Wednesday, October 28, 2015



(Amaranthus tricolor)

Originating in South Central Mexico, amaranth was cultivated as a food crop as early as 7000 years ago.  It was a principal source of protein for the pre-Hispanic population and along with beans and corn was a fundamental part of the Mexican diet.  Today it is grown worldwide.  Ancient Greeks considered it a symbol of immortality and its name comes from the Greek word for “never-fading.”  It was a staple in the diets of pre-Colombian Aztecs.  In Africa, it is known as a “vegetable for all” and goes well with carbohydrate dishes.  Although still not a mainstream food, amaranth flour has been grown in the U.S. since 1975 and can be found in natural food stores.

A relative of lamb’s quarters, amaranth is a tender perennial which is hardy to zone 7 and does well into summer when other spring salad greens have bolted.  There are approximately 60 species but no definite distinction between those grown for the leaf and the seed.  The plant, which is grown in home gardens for its tender and flavorful foliage, produces large oval leaves which are medium green overlaid with a burgundy red star and large clusters of tiny greenish-white flowers.  The seeds are very small and black or reddish brown.  Easy to grow from seed planted in cool spring soil, amaranth grows 18”-20” tall and loves full sun and rich but well-drained soil.  It resists heat and drought plus has no major disease problems, but it does not transplant well.  Amaranth is more efficient at converting atmospheric carbon to biomass than most plants, as a result, it grows fast, is very productive and is adaptable.  Harvest the individual leaves once or twice a week and cut back the whole plant to 6” to encourage new growth and successive harvests.  The leaves may be frozen.  The seeds can also be harvested to be eaten as a grain and are best stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to prevent them from becoming rancid and used within 3-6 months.

Amaranth leaves are incredibly versatile with a hearty flavor like spinach with a pinch of horseradish – slightly sweet but tangy.  Excellent in raw salads or as a steamed vegetable, the foliage is even more nutritious than spinach especially higher in iron, calcium and phosphorous, but is also high in vitamins A and C.  Amaranth combines well with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and lemons and may be stir-fried, sautéed, or mixed with sauces, soups, stews or wherever spinach is used in a recipe.  The amaranth grain is used worldwide as a complete protein and ground into flour with no gluten for tasty baked goods, cooked as a cereal or popped like popcorn.  The seeds may also be sprouted and used on sandwiches and salads or just munched on!

With its coleus-like appearance,
amaranth is showy enough for flowerbeds,
borders and containers

An ornamental  strain of amaranth known as Joseph’s Coat
 bears larger leaves in brilliant shades of red, yellow, bronze and green on plants reaching 6 feet high

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world and all who live in it

Psalm 24:1

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