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Amaranth, The Wonder Crop: Beautiful and Edible in Multiple Forms!

Amaranth in Mid-Season

Amaranth in Early Summer


This year I grew amaranth, a crop I’ve never grown nor seen grown before, in the hopes of planting it from seed and harvesting the seed to plant next year.  I’ll let you know how that went in a moment.  First…


Why Grow Amaranth


I received the seeds back in the spring, in a beautiful care package from Botanical Interests – they asked me to try out some of their new organic seeds and write about it.  This particular variety is Burgandy Amaranth, Amaranthus hypochondriacus.  As many of you know, I am incredibly busy starting my new business, so I’m always looking for low-maintenance things to grow and cook.  Ah, amaranth, I love you so!


  1. Salad Green: When it’s young, and the leaves are just a few inches long, it adds a wonderful color and flavor to salads.

  2. Cooking Green: When the leaves are more mature, they are a very nutritious spinach, often used in Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, and Thai cuisines.  I’ve seen them called “Chinese Spinach” in our farmer’s markets here.  The leaves are a good source of including vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.

  3. Whole Protein Grain: When the plants are allowed to go to seed, the seeds themselves are one of the most complete proteins you can find.  And they’re free of gluten.  The seeds are 13-18% protein, according to Seeds of Change, with a high level of the amino acid lysine, an essential amino acid that is usually deficient in plant protein. Amaranth is also a good source of calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, and B vitamins.  You prepare it much as you would quinoa.

  4. Popping Grain: According to Botanical Interests, you can also pop the grain like popcorn.

  5. Dye: Apparently the leaves are also a good red dye, used by the Hopi Native Americans.
  6.  

How To Grow Amaranth


Did I mention it was easy?


  • Sow the seeds 1/4″ deep, 4-6″ apart in well-aged compost.  You can plant them directly in the soil after danger of frost has passed, or plant them indoors 4-6 weeks before your average last day of frost. Germination is best when soil temperatures are 65 to 75 degrees.
  • The seeds will germinate in as little as 3 days if your soil is warm and moist but not wet.  Every single one of my seeds grew, and grew fast!
  • Plants should be thinned 6-18″ apart eventually, before they start to compete with one another for light. (Eat the thinnings in a salad!)
  • This particular variety reaches 5-8 feet tall, no kidding.  You can interplant small greens or other shade-loving crops beneath them.
  • Amaranth is drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant, and disease-resistant.  You don’t need to water them more than about twice a week, even in high summer heat.


Seeds Forming in July

Seeds Forming in July


How To Harvest Amaranth Seed


Each head of amaranth holds tens of thousands of seeds, and will yield anywhere from 1 to 8 ounces of harvested seeds.  In warm, dry climates, harvesting amaranth is very easy.


Instructions from Seeds of Change:


Cut the seedheads just before they become dry and brittle. Lay the seedheads on a cloth or place them inside paper or cloth bags with heads down and leave in the shade to finish drying. When the seedheads are dry, the seeds can be removed in several ways: by rubbing gently with your hands, by enclosing the seedheads between two cloths and treading on top without shoes on, by beating the seedheads inside of a bag, or by beating seedheads together over a cloth.


Instructions from Salt Spring Seeds:


Amaranth keeps on flowering until hit by the first hard frost. Seed will often ripen many weeks before that, usually after about three months. The best way to determine if seed is harvestable is to gently but briskly shake or rub the flower heads between your hands and see if the seeds fall readily. (Numerous small and appreciative birds may give hints as to when to start doing this.) An easy way to gather ripe grain is, in dry weather, to bend the plants over a bucket and rub the seedheads between your hands.


Unfortunately for me, harvesting in wet climates is not as easy.


According to Salt Spring Seeds, “the best time to harvest amaranth commercially is in dry weather three to seven days after first frost.”  Since our amaranth fell over in the wind and rain of a typical Seattle fall, my mother and I harvested the seed long before it was dry, and hung it in the basement to dry.  I wish I had read the Salt Spring Seeds article before we did this: “Cutting and hanging plants to dry indoors does not work very well: the plants become extremely bristly and it is difficult to separate the seed from the chaff.”  Ooops.  We can verify that this is true.  Apparently until a killing frost, the plants have too high of a moisture content to be able to dry them before they become moldy.


Next year I think we’ll need to stake up the amaranth and continue to let it dry, and then hope for a drier fall!


Fallen Amaranth in November

Fallen Amaranth in November


Threshing The Seeds


The hulls of the seeds are in no way poisonous, and they are a fine source of fiber in your diet, so there is no need to get every last bit of hull out of our seeds.  We did save one head of amaranth in the ground, that is still waiting for the killing frost.  So there is hope for us yet.  Since we haven’t successfully harvested the seeds yet, I’ll thank Seeds of Change and Salt Spring Seeds for providing the following excellent instructions.


Instructions from Seeds of Change:


Once the dry seeds are removed they can be placed into a shallow bowl and swirled around until the large pieces of flowers rise to the top where they are easy to remove. By tipping the bowl you can rake out much of the chaff that is left. Any small particles of flowers, chaff, or dirt that remain can be removed by shaking the seed through a small mess screen about the size of window screen. Winnowing the seed in a light breeze will also remove the flower and chaff effectively. The seeds are very light so it is important to winnow carefully in light breeze only.


Instructions from Salt Spring Seeds:


My own preferred threshing method is to rub the flowerheads through screening into a wheelbarrow and then to blow away the finer chaff using my air compressor. Cutting and hanging plants to dry indoors does not work very well: the plants become extremely bristly and it is difficult to separate the seed from the chaff…


Here are two short videos that help show what this looks like:



Storing The Seeds


Instructions from Seeds of Change:


Once the seeds are dried and cleaned, it is a good idea to keep the seeds for several days at the temperature at which they will be stored, before putting them into a storage container. If the seeds do not feel damp and do not stick to each other during this time they are probably dry enough for storage. The length of time to dry seeds varies greatly depending on the air humidity, drying conditions, seed size, and how clean the seeds are. Store quinoa and amaranth as you would any type of cereal or grain in a sealed, airtight container out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat.


Instructions from Salt Spring Seeds:


After harvesting, it is important to further dry your crop to ensure it won’t mold in storage. It can be left on trays in the hot sun or placed near an indoor heat source.  Stir occasionally until it is as dry as possible. Store seed in air-tight containers in a cool dry place.


Will I Grow It Again?


Yes!  Not only is it low-maintenance, nutritious, and tasty, but it is the best community-builder in the garden!  Almost every gardener wants to know what that gorgeous plant is, so it was a great conversation starter in our community garden.  Plus the Asian gardeners were excited to see us growing, and told us when to start harvesting the leaves for cooking greens.


Thanks, Botanical Interests, for pushing me to grow this fabulous plant.  There are 70 varieties of amaranth, so there are lots of varieties to try!


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18 comments to Amaranth, The Wonder Crop: Beautiful and Edible in Multiple Forms!

  • Jayne

    I’ve been growing this as an ornamental for a few years now, it looks lovely in flower arrangements, but I had no idea that you could eat it! I pulled it up and put it on the compost heap, seeds and all.
    Although I might struggle to harvest the seeds in our usually wet and windy UK autumn. I will try some of the leaves as a salad/veg crop next year.

  • Thanks Melinda,

    I keep meaning to try amaranth as one of my “test grains” but somehow it always ends up being something else, this year a variety of hull less oats.

    Considering just how dry our summer weather has been in the last couple of years I am just going to have to make space for it soon. Your info has been very useful about giving me a final push.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  • Both my mother and I have grown Amaranth and agree that is very easy to grow. Never have gotten it to the grain stage though.

    Starting to receive seed catalogs!

  • Thanks for this great amaranth post. I’m definitely saving the link for later use. I’ve always wanted to grow amaranth but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I think that 2010 will be the year.

  • We did Quinoa this year, which is another pseudo-grain that grows similarly. You have some beautiful specimens and quite the haul to cook up over the year.

  • I’d forgotten about the amaranth from your p-patch – what a beautiful plant! Seems it would be a good candidate for a trouble spot in our front yard – gotta love an ornamental edible!

  • Wonderful. If they grow in zone 8, I’ll consider these for next fall/winter. They would be great for a Thanksgiving/Christmas show.

  • I bet you’ll be growing amaranth for years, whether you want to or not. :) Does it cross-pollinate with lamb’s quarters, the way quinoa does?

  • Sure, get another plant to get me growing… LOL I am Rob and I am a Amaranth Farmer !!! One Question- Can you freeze the leaves like spinach???

  • Rob, I would imagine you can freeze them the same way, but I haven’t tried. Guess you’ll have to try and let me know! :)

    Emily, YES, you’re totally right – I expect there will be amaranth seedlings all over our plot and our neighbors’. I would feel bad about the latter, but he has all sorts of weeds growing in his plot – at least these will be prettier! FYI, amaranth is a relative of pigweed/lamb’s quarters so I believe it will cross.

  • Deb G, I am too, and I already have WAY too many things circled!

    Maybelline, we are zone 8 so yep, it grows in zone 8!

  • angelina

    You’ve eaten the greens but have you ever tried the grain? I’d like to know what it’s like before buying some to try or planting any. They are really pretty and I didn’t know you could eat the greens- so that’s pretty cool.

  • Angelina, you should be able to find amaranth grain in your local health food store. It tastes along the lines of quinoa, bulgar wheat, or couscous. It is also used in a lot of healthy cereals.

  • [...] Interests – last year they sent me my free and very successful amaranth, along with a few other samples, in a beautiful box with a cute garden desk calendar – so [...]

  • GBADE

    I WANT YOU TO HELP ME WITH MORE INFORMATION ON THE PRODUCTION OF AMARANTHUS VEGETABLE ALONG SIDE THE LEVEL OF TOLERANCE OF THIS SAME AMARANTHUS TO WEED INFESTATION

  • Hi GBADE, happy to help if I can – what sort of information are you looking for? In general, I’m not so worried about weeds – if they come up, I pull them. As long as my soil is healthy, I mulch properly and I plant with correct spacing, weeds in general are not an issue for me.

  • sam

    Will Amarantus give root if you cut from steam and put it in water. Because I tried seed and didn’t work and then a friend of mine gave me a cut fron 1/4 top of one of his amaranthus three colour and I just put it in a jar of water hoping it will root?

  • emily

    thank you your web site very informative originaly planted because loved the colour and movement and height in the garden…thought it was broom corn ..seems to love my garden hade some over 7 foot tall ..took the heads off for the neighbours asking for seeds and left the stalks for winter decoration ,,sprayed them red looked great so easy to grow

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