Amaranth. It’s burgundy leaves are gorgeous. It’s considered and ancient grain and was initially grown on large scale in ancient Mexico, Guatamala and Peru. It is easily harvested and it’s seeds are an excellent source of protein and lysine, containing about thirty percent more than rice, sorghum and rye. Only downside is that it lacks amino acids that are present in wheat and corn.
It’s also easy to cook (and delicous). It grows rapidly and the seed heads can contain up to half a million seeds. Seeds can be used in soups, eaten as rice or ground into flour. You can also just take a handful and pop it into your mouth.
The leaves, roots and stems can all be used. A mature root is a popular vegetable–white and cooked with tomatoes or gravy. The leaves can be boiled and served with olive oil as a salad. The leaves and stems make excellent stir fry veggies. The greens are believed to enhance eyesight. Leaves can also be used with garlic, onions and tomatoes in soup.
It’s a beautiful ornamental and at one time the Hopi Native Americans used it as a red dye. It is now used to make a synthetic dye called Red No. 2.
Not only is it a yummy veggie, grain and seed, it is also has amazing nutritional value.
The cooked leaves are a great source of vitamins A, C and folate. The cooked grains are a source of thiamine, niacin, folate, riboflavin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosporus, copper, zinc and manganese. As mentioned the seeds contain lysine which is limited in other grains. And it does not contain gluten. Amazing, huh?
In addition to all the nutritional value above, the seed may also benefit those with everything from hypertension and cardiovascular disease to high blood pressure and cholesterol.
It can also be a beneficial weed (pigweed) and used as a trap crop for leaf miners and other pests. It shelters ground beetles that prey on these pests and breaks up hard soils for the it’s neighbors.
Amaranth is also lucky enough to be an inspiration to poets from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats to John Milton. An excerpt from Paradise Lost:
“Immortal amarant, a flower which once
In paradise, fast by the tree of life,
Began to bloom; but soon for man’s offence
To heaven removed, where first it grew, there grows,
And flowers aloft, shading the fount of life,
And where the river of bliss through midst of heaven
Rolls o’er elysian flowers her amber stream
With these that never fade the spirits elect
Bind their resplendent locks.”
I have only had it in soups, but cannot wait to try it in some of the ways listed above.