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 [1]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 [2] 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

[1] Lost Crops of Africa: Amaranth

[2] Amaranth Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop

  1. #1 by Irene on April 5, 2010 - 22:18

    Lovely post !

    I love Amaranth too and so do my chickens !

  2. #2 by Matron on April 9, 2010 - 20:46

    That looks really interesting, I might enjoy tasting another strange green leaf! I might look out for some and try them.

    • #3 by Laura on April 23, 2010 - 10:01

      happy to send you some seeds Matron just let me know if you want them

  3. #4 by Kate on April 16, 2010 - 21:41

    My most favourite plant, I would say….. with fennel coming a close second in the useful and delicious stakes but amaranth beats every other vegetable for looks and longevity.

  4. #5 by Nome on April 26, 2010 - 23:38

    Well, you learn something every day! I think I’ll have to give this one a try!

    How big is the plant and how much space does it need?

  5. #6 by Matron on May 6, 2010 - 19:47

    I must be a bit slow because I’ve just read here that this is the same as calaloo! This is one West Indian vegetable I’ve been itching to grow for a while. You see these leaves in Indian or Caribbean shops here. I love to make calaloo soup, flavoured with chilli and coconut milk!

  6. #7 by Laura on May 6, 2010 - 20:16

    There is some confusion about which plant Calaloo or callaloo actually is. Some refer to any leafy green as Callaloo (as it is also the name of a West Indian dish made with a number of leafy greens), some refer to it meaning dasheen/eddo leaves see this brilliant post and recipe

    According to Sally Cunnigham in her recent book Asian Vegetables – a guide to Growing Fruit, Vegetables and Spices from the Indian Subcontinent Amaranth is known as Chauli in Hindi, and referred to as bayam in Bangladesh and Callallo in the Caribbean. Hope that helps – happy to send you some seed matron – grow it – its is cracking stuff whatever the name.

  7. #8 by Mehta Bharatkumar on August 8, 2011 - 08:38

    The history of ”Amarnath” is fantastic. Most basic is this word ”Amarnath”. The word has origin in ancient India’s Sanskrit language Amar means, not for death but for concurring death. Amarnath is also word apply to India’s Great God Shiva…he is very well known as Amarnath–Mritunjay… concurring of death.

    When this name attributed to some grain, then it meant it is very healthy food, highly recommended.

    Today, in America its grain is used as food for birds, but truly it is good food for human being. Our modern people suffering lot from increasing fat and cholesterol, and this food is safe against fat.

    As a Indian, this is my daily food, and in Indian it is still easily available. I recommend all who are serious about one’s own health.

    • #9 by Laura on August 8, 2011 - 11:11

      Thanks for the comment Mehta – really interesteing to hear that. From what I’ve read it sounds like the Aztecs used the plant in rituals which the Spanish invaders did not approve of and banned the crop – one of the reasons it became scarce or was not brought back with other crops to europe. Thanks for the great info i will be able to do more research with that lead.

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