Amaranth

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Red Amaranth growing in Joe’s connected garden.
These plants are pushing 6 foot tall, not including the height of the raised bed.  2-3 times the amount shown here self seeded from just one plant that was purchased last year.
I am not 100% sure of the species but this one is most likely Amaranthus cruentus, one of the most common species grown for grain alongside Amaranthus hypochondriacusAmaranthus caudatus. Amaranth is a member of the  Amaranthaceae family (easy enough to remember) which I believe also now includes the former Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot, saltbush, lamb’s quarters) family.

As compared to grains , Amaranth seeds are high in the amino acid Lysine which the body uses in the process of bio-synthesising protein. They also contain more potassium, zinc & vitamin B. The seeds can be ground into flour or popped to make a cereal. Personally, I like to use them as a poppy seed substitute in muffins & cakes.
The leaves are nutritionally similar to that of beetroot & chard/spinach, the difference being that Amaranth has more of the good stuff. The protein content alone is quite something for a leafy green (or red) with up to 38% protein by dry weight. It is one of the 5 most nutritious vegetables ever tested by the US department of agriculture.
The leaves are best eaten when young as they have a tendency to get a bit tough as they mature, although they can still be eaten if cooked.

One of the bet things about Amaranth is it’s tendency to grow of it’s own volition. Where I live (Adelaide plains) the most likely species to come across is Amaranthus viridis (green amaranth) although this is certainly not the only species/variety that you will potentially encounter. A couple other species used for edible leaves & seeds include Amaranthus tricolor & Amaranthus interruptus.

Amaranth can be identified by its alternate, broadly lanceolate to rhomboid leaves which are generally a dull green colour if you’ve found some Amaranthus viridis on a roadside, pathway  or your favourite weed foraging location. The veins are quite indented.
Amaranthus viridis flowers start out green and progress to brown but other species such as the pictured Amaranthus cruentus have red flowers of varying shades, some have a purple or pink flower. The flowers can have either an upright or weeping habit.

While Amaranth isn’t much of an issue as a weed around here (as far as I’m aware) the US may be experiencing a different side to this most useful plant… A species in the US has developed a resistance to everyone’s favourite herbicide, newly labelled as a carcinogen, glyphosate!  It is now causing agricultural issues with farmers by smothering genetically modified glyphosate resistant cotton & soya crops.

The seeds were a staple food of both the Aztecs & the Incas. The Incas created idols for communion with the Gods by mixing the seeds with honey or cactus syrup, & occasionally, human blood.
The earliest archaeological record of Amaranth cultivation dates back to around 4000 BC in Tehuacan Puebla, Mexico.

I am very excited to see the quantity & distribution of this beautiful plant throughout the gardens when this bunch self seeds. If this is the amount we got from just one plant, after collecting hundreds of seeds, I can’t wait to see how many we end up with. This will surely be a plant I will be incorporating into my diet more since it is so available to us now. We will also save some seeds to share, swap & sell (to contribute to the ever humongous water bills.)  A smile never evades me when I pass by these beauties, towering over me & brightening up their surroundings in a stunning display of captivating colour.

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