This year we grew amaranth at our farm for the first time, but certainly not the last. The sheer weirdness of the seedheads, the variance in shape, size and colour are enough to get any plant lover razzed up. They look like multi-fingered, multi-pronged jester hats sitting atop tall, leafy stalks that will instantly remind you of it's weedy counterpart, that old garden nemesis Pigweed. Luckily this plant is friendly to a fault. It grows quickly and easily, and is simple to harvest as well. Baby leaves are tender enough to eat in salads. Mature leaves are an excellent cooked green - use them as you would chard, spinach or kale. The ripe seeds are easily threshed and can be cooked similiarly to quinoa, boiled into a nutritious porridge, or popped on a skillet like popcorn. Oh, did I mention that each plant contains approximately half a million seeds in that seed head? Friendly to a fault, indeed.
Amaranth fits in well with all the talk of superfoods and nutrient dense foods we speak of today. The seeds contain 30% more protein than rice or sorghum, for example. It's gluten free! Let me repeat, it's gluten free! I don't actually care, but you might. Any plant that has edible leaves, roots, stems and seeds and is as nutritious as Amaranth deserves a place in your garden and on your table. So grow some this year. We have two great varieties on offer. Don't choose, grow them both.
Growing it may cause feelings of rebelliousness and dissension. That's because the cultivation of this plant was once outlawed in Mexico by the conguering Spanish, who feared the revered place it held in Aztec culture. Some estimates suggest Amaranth supplied 80% of the caloric intake of pre-contact Aztecas. That has my head spinning! It's definately not as prominent in our diets today, or even a contemporary Aztec diet, but it sure deserves a chance to make it into some of your favourite recipes. Buen provecho!