Amaranth is a plant that dates back to the ancient Inca and Aztec cultures. It was considered sacred then,and is an unknown super plant now. The Aztecs believed it was magical and could give them amazing strength. Science is now uncovering that although it may not be “magical”, its nutritional value does surpasses the most common grains used today. It is high in protein, has more iron than a 6oz steak, and has as much calcium as milk. It is also high in magnesium which is needed for the body to absorb calcium, which milk is low in. Both the grain, which is gluten-free, and the leaves are used for its nutritional value and taste.
How can it be incorporated into the diet? The leaves can be used in stir fried vegetable dishes, salads, and really the same as other greens. The grain can be made as porridge, or popped in the same way as popping corn. Just place a little bit of oil in the bottom of the pan with a pinch of salt and let it pop. Great snack for kids and adults alike. To give a wonderful flavor and increase the nutritional value, add it to brown rice with a 25% to 75% ratio (amaranth to brown rice). Finally, Amaranth can be ground into flour and added with wheat to increase the nutritional value of bread. Amaranth is gluten free so it will not rise if used alone. The ratio of wheat to amaranth is 75% to 25%. You can also use amaranth 100% for muffins and other similar baked goods that do not need to rise.
The plant is excellent for the home gardener to grow as it is drought resistant and bug tolerant. The plant can grow from four to eight feet high with the most striking deep red flowers. The name amaranth comes from the Greek amarantos (Αμάρανθος or Αμάραντος) meaning the one that does not wither or the never-fading (flower) which these majestic flowers perfectly encapsulate.
How and when to plant it?It is best to plant it in well drained soil, but it will do well in all soils accept poorly aerated clay soils. Amaranth is a warm season crop that requires full sun. Best to sow the seeds when the temperature ranges from 65-75°F (18-24°C). Plant it ¼ inch deep and 1 ½ to 2 feet apart. Plants should be thinned to 6 to 18 inches (those plants not used can be put into salads). It should keep on flowering until the first hard frost.
When and how to harvest?The leaves can be harvested at any time, but the best leaves are the smaller ones. The seeds can be harvested when the flower is gently rubbed and it falls straight away to the ground. To harvest, gently rub the flowers in between your hands and let the seeds fall into a bucket. Afterwards, the chaff can be blown off with a low powered fan.
Enjoy nature’s bounty and experience a new and nutritious delight as well as adding a beautiful ornamental flower to your garden!