The Amaranthaceae botanical family is divided into several subfamilies, serialized as a vast collection of weeds, bushes and also many edibles. From greens (such as spinach and Swiss chard), inflorescences (for example, see huauzontle in my previous posts), roots (beets), to pseudo-grains, such as quinoa and the subject of this post, Amaranth (Amaranthus sp.)
The genus Amaranthus is a whole entity of its own, comprising 70 different species; although there is archeological evidence of Amaranthus in the Old World, many species are native to the Americas. The Greek roots of the word Amaranth mean “unfading flower”, due to its resistance to inclement weather, poor soil and pests (bugs, fungus, or bacteria.) The Nahuatl name is huāuhtli and it was cultivated in pre-Hispanic Mexico for its seeds, consumed in beverages (similar to atole), as a substitute of corn (where this crop was hard to cultivate), and even as part of a ceremonial treat made with toasted or ground and cooked seeds and agave syrup, or honey (yes, there was honey in pre-Columbian MesoAmerica!)
There are mainly three species of Mexican amaranth; I bought a burgundy variety (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) from West Coast Seeds™ a couple of years ago and grew it that same season (2017). It was a great year for my amaranth crop, I guess very sunny but not extreme; the plants grew to about five feet (1.52 m) tall and produced beautiful velvety inflorescences, loaded with seed:
I cooked with some of the edible leaves when they were young, and saved a couple of tablespoons of seed. Raw baby leaves added a bright colour and bite to salads that was everything but vapid, and cooked larger ones provided a decent spinach substitute. I was proud to see that my seeds looked just like the ones from a package of Bob’s Red Mill™:
I have not grown it again because, although good in all the applications mentioned above, I thought the flavour of the leaves was too strong for my family’s taste and, as for the seeds, it took me a lot of time to separate them from the chaff (some debris may still be appreciated in the little bag with my seed).
It was still fun to grow, and even just as an ornamental, it is a beautiful plant. Maybe I will give it another try next year …