A tender annual of the Amaranthaceae family, Amaranth is grown for its protein rich leaves as well as it nutritious grains. The name Amaranthus is said to come from the ancient Greek meaning ‘life-everlasting’ which probably refers to its habit of self-seeding. It is also known as Indian, African or Chinese spinach or sometimes as calaloo. This plant has everything going for it, it is easy to propagate, doesn’t much care where you put it, produces an abundance of fresh leaves to eat in summer and delicious nutty grains in autumn, it tastes great and is versatile in the kitchen and if that wasn’t enough it is one of the best looking plants you can grow in an edible garden. I got my seeds a few years back from Bob Bester in Tazmania and although there are many varieties of Amaranth I think this one is Amaranthus caudatus.
Plant History Its origins appear to be widespread; it is known to have been grown in Asia since the beginning of recorded history, there are species native to Africa and it was a fundamental food and cultural crop of the South Americas. Amaranth is an ancient crop that, along with beans and corn, was famously one of the main foods of the Aztecs. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the collapse of Indian cultures Amaranth survived only in small pockets of cultivation in scattered mountain areas. Today grain amaranth is a forgotten crop, while corn and beans became two of the leading crops that feed the world, amaranth faded into obscurity despite its potential as a global food source. Amaranth is still grown and eaten as a vegetable green in over 50 tropical countries and is a vital crop in some of the harshest growing conditions in the world.
Site and Soil Tolerates heat and drought as well as some shade. Grows vigorously and adapts well to various sites.
Propagation Very quick to crop the first young leaves can be picked in as little as 3 weeks. Sow Spring (April-May) a second crop can sown again in late summer in warm areas. Sow in trays and plant out after last frost or sow direct. Cover seeds only lightly or not at all. Germination aprox. 8-10 days at 21-24c (70-75F)
Care it seems to take care of itself and is a really easy plant to grow. It would make a good choice for low maintenance, permaculture or forest gardens as well as a kitchen garden or even flower garden.
Harvest young leaves in summer and grains in the autumn. The grains are inside the millions of tiny pink flowers, dry and shake to extract the seeds.
Storage use leaves freshly picked or blanch and freeze to store. The dry grains will store for several years.
Botany and Seed Saving A pioneer species, whose niche in nature is the quick colonisation of disturbed land. Plants produce a huge number of fast germinating seeds and use the C4 photosynthetic mechanism, common in arid-land species, which enables them to thrive in hot, dry weather.
Use Amaranth leaves are used as a ‘potherb’ boiled and eaten as vegetable greens. The stems and leaves cook quickly and become soft with a mild flavour and no trace of bitterness or squeekiness. The leaves and stems make wonderful stir-fries and, to my taste, a far superior cooking green to spinach, particularly when cooked oriental style. The grains can apparently be used in breads, breakfast cereals or as an ingredient in confections but I’ve been experimenting with them in the kitchen making the most wonderful savory seedy biscuits to eat with cheese.
Nutrition  Amaranth produces a gluten free high protein grain and the leaves are high in calcium and iron and vitamins C and A making it a valuable source of food.
Bibliog and further reading