Amaranth may not be a staple crop on American homesteads right now, but it should be. This nutrient-rich plant has been used as a dietary staple and natural home remedy base ingredient in many regions of the world for centuries.
This beautiful and easy to grow plant that is often classified as both a grain and an herb, has long been dubbed a “superfood.” Amaranth is not just one plant, but part of the Amaranthaceae genus that includes 60 varieties. Spinach, sugar beets, and pigweed are part of this same plant family.
Amaranth grows in every environment on the globe, with the exclusion of Antarctica. Typically, most varieties of Amaranth do not come into bloom until the summer or even early fall.
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History of Amaranth
The Aztecs were so enamored with this plant and the use of it so ingrained in their culture that they built a statue to Huitzilopochtili, a god, using Amaranth seeds and honey.
The statue was made each year during the Aztec holy month, Panquetzaliztli which ran from what we know as December 7 through December 26.
While developing Mesoamerica, the Aztecs are “hauhtli” – what they called Amaranth, to satisfy the majority of both their calorie and protein needs.
After the Spanish conquest ended, it became illegal to grow Amaranth in Mexico. But, thanks to its hardynasture and ability to thrive on its own in even poor soil, prevented it from disappearing from the landscape forever.
Indigenous people still foraged for the plant they were not allowed to grow to both consume it as part of a meal and to enjoy a traditional snack – popped Amaranth seeds.
Amaranth plants were also cultivated in copious quantities in Himalayan cultures, Central America, and Latin America. In China, India, and Asia, Amaranth plants of red leaved varieties have been used for both eating and natural medicines for thousands of years.
What Makes Amaranth So Nutrient-Rich?
Amaranth is often called a grain because it looks similar to those types of crops, but this plant that is often mistaken for a weed in the United States, boasts a far greater percentage of nutrients than most common grains, such as wheat, oats, and barley.
Protein – Oats, for example, possess 26.1 grams of protein but Amaranth boasts between 28.1 to 30 percent protein, depending upon the plant variety.
There are nine grams of protein in a single cup of Amaranth – making this little known homesteading must have more nutrient rich than even quinoa.
It is from the leaves of members of this plant family that protein is usually consumed.
Amaranth leaves share similarities with those of sugar beets, Swiss chard, and spinach but contain more nutrients than any of those traditional vegetable crops.
If your homesteading dream includes being as self-sufficient and self-reliant as possible, growing and raising your own protein hould be a top priority.
Urban and suburban, and even small town homesteads, are generally limited on both the type and number of livestock they can raise.
Cultivating Amaranth in the backyard in plots, or in large containers can provide the family with a solid source of protein even if not a single animal is being raised on the property.
Plant based protein is decidedly lower in fat and cholesterol than those big juicy steaks so many of us tend to love. Not only is the protein found in Amaranth healthier to consume, it is also gluten-free.
Lysine – This essential amino acid helps the body metabolize fatty acids, and process them into energy.
Lysine could also be helpful in curtailing hair loss and thinning hair. Amaranth plants possess more lysine than any grain crop traditionally grown in the United States.
Calcium – Amaranth is comprised of two times the amount of calcium than is found in milk, and 20 times more calcium than in spinach.
Vitamin C – Amaranth is the only grain style plant that contains vitamin C. The leaves on this annual plant boasts its highest concentration of this vital nutrient.
Iron – Amaranth plants possess seven times more iron than lettuce and all other grain type plants. Unlike corn, Amaranth also contains magnesium compounds.
Amaranth also contains high percentages of vitamin E, potassium, vitamin A, carotene, phosphorus, zinc, folate, and niacin.
Because of the manner in which Amaranth reduces the amount of insulin in the blood and releases a hormone that can make a person feel less hungry, this plant has been eaten as a natural appetite suppressant.
Manganese can help protect the brain from developing neurological issues, and enhance overall brain function. Phosphorus can help create strong bone health.
Amaranth Nutrient Breakdown
Serving Size: 1 Cup
- 5.2 grams of fat
- 251 calories
- 46 grams of carbohydrates
- 9 grams of protein
- 36 percent of the recommended daily amount of phosphorus
- 29 percent of the recommended daily amount of iron
- 105 percent of the recommended daily amount of manganese
- 19 percent of the recommended daily amount of selenium
- 18 percent of the recommended daily amount of copper
- 40 percent of the recommended daily amount of magnesium
Every part of the amaranth plant is edible: roots, seeds, stem, leaves, and flowers. Oil made from Amaranth plants can be used in food preparation, body lotions, soap, and related products.
In a plethora of spots on the map, Amaranth is viewed as a traditional garden crop – especially in South America.
In many cultures and countries, Amaranth is placed on the dinner plate just like any other vegetable harvested from the garden.
While the leaves on all 60 varieties of Amaranth are edible, some have prickly spikes on the surface – somewhat like stinging nettle.
The leaves with the spikes must be washed thoroughly to remove them before consuming the leaves raw or cooked.
Leaves from the Amaranth plant can be eaten any time of the year, but are at their most tender and flavorful state when they are young. The tips or tassels of older plants are usually the best tasting part to be eaten raw.
When eating the stems from the Amaranth plant, I highly recommend cooking, boiling, or frying them along with your favorite spices and other veggies.
The stems from young plants can be eaten or used in recipes right after harvesting and washing, but the stems from older plants will need to be peeled first to remove the hardened outer covering. While the stems are edible, they do not have as much flavor as the leaves.
The seeds from the Amaranth plant can be eaten raw, fried, sauteed, cooked, boiled, ground into flour, or processed into an oil. It is from the seeds that a tasty and aged mash or ale has been made for centuries.
How to Use Amaranth As Food
Amaranth is a versatile garden plant. It can be used in a plethora of ways and preserved for future use just like any other typical garden crop.
- Raw leaves can be used as nutrient rich salad greens.
- Amaranth can be used as a substitute for spinach in any recipe that calls for Popeye’s favorite snack.
- Amaranth can be mixed into smoothies to make the healthy snack more filling, as well as to boost its level of nutrients.
- Mix amaranth flour into stews, soups, and casserole dishes to thicken them, increase flavor, and make them more filling.
- Grind Amaranth seeds into a flour, and use in place of or as a partial substitute for traditional flour.
- Amaranth can also be used as a substitute for both rice and pasta to be either eaten alone or in recipes that call for either of them.
- Combine one part Amaranth seeds to three parts either milk or water to make porridge. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then turn the heat back to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes. When the mixture has a consistency of a bowl of oatmeal, it is ready to eat. Topping the Amaranth porridge with fresh fruit makes is a delightful and nutrient filled breakfast treat.
- Popped Amaranth seeds can be eaten as a snack or placed into a bowl with milk and consumed like cereal.
Amaranth Preparation Tips
Boil the chopped stems and – or leaves from Amaranth plants for roughly 10 minutes. Drain away the water, top the plant parts with olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, butter, and your favorite blend of spices and enjoy.
Soak Amaranth seeds in cool to lukewarm water for one to three days to speed up germination. The sprouts that appear can be eaten raw as mini greens or prepared as you would leaves or stems.
Place a dab of butter or a capful of cooking oil into a skillet. As the butter melts or the oil heats, season the leaves, chopped roots, or stems with spices.
I highly recommend using garlic, green onion, salt, pepper, plantain, and rosemary.
- Amaranth Porridge – This warm morning treat is especially delicious topped with fresh fruit or foraged blackberries.
- Chocolate Amaranth Pudding – There are many ways to make Amaranth pudding, but if there is a chocolate lover in your family, this might become their new favorite dessert.
- Amaranth Parfait – This sweet treat is also extra yummy when topped with a garnish of freshly harvested strawberries or foraged blackberries.
- Amaranth Patties – Mixing Amaranth with onions, garlic, cloves, and a little bit of lemon zest turns this ancient grain into a delicious patty that can be eaten on a pita or as a traditional sandwich.
- Amaranth No Knead Honey Nut Bread – This simple to make bread is an incredibly delicious and healty addition to any dinner table or family celebration.
- Sauteed Amaranth Greens – You can whip up this healthy and filling dish for lunch or as a dinner side dish in just a few minutes.
- Amaranth Spice Cookies – Finally, a healthy cookie you do not need to feel guilty about either serving to you children or indulging in yourself.
- Amaranth Mexican Ranchero Stew – This gluten free and high protein stew tastes great on a cold winter morning or when making outdoors over an open fire in the fall – right after harvesting your Amaranth plants.
- Amaranth Garlic and Herb Crackers – Homemade crackers fresh out of the oven not only smell great, but taste amazing too. These crackers go equally well topped with cheese or meat cubes as they do with a veggie dip when entertaining on the homestead.
- Amaranth Pancakes – It takes only 10 minutes to whip up enough of a healthy Amaranth-based batter to make one dozen large pancakes for a hearty weekend breakfast.
Natural Home Remedy Attributes and Uses
Amaranth contains gallic acid, vanillic acid, and p-hydroxybenzoic acid. These antioxidant compounds could help protect the body from the damage caused by exposure to free radicals.
These same natural antioxidants could also aid in the prevention of some varieties of cancer and cardiac disease, according to studies.
Consumption of Amaranth could also thwart infection and inflammation contracted through illness or injuries. The immunoglobulin E compounds in the body that are responsible for causing inflammation due to allergic reactions might also be reduced by the consumption of Amaranth.
The results of some research studies using animals as test subjects revealed that Amaranth oil could reduce the “bad” cholesterol levels in the body by up to 22%.
A separate but topic related research study also found that In Amaranth consumption was capable of decreasing bad cholesterol by up to 70% and overall cholesterol levels by 30%.
Amaranth oil natural home remedies recipes have been used to prevent or treat a vast array of health issues around the world for centuries.
The oil from plants in this genus are used to make:
- Hair Conditioner
- Human and Animal Shampoo
- Aromatherapy Products
- Moisturizing Lotion
The squalene compounds in Amaranth oil may help prevent or treat multiple common skin issues, such as psoriasis, acne, seborrheic dermatitis, and atpic dermatitis.
As more and more health and beauty aids are being produced both commercially and in kitchens around the country with natural ingredients, Amaranth oil is becoming more popular as an agricultural crop in the United States.
- Gum Disease and Soreness
- Wound Wash
Identifying Amaranth Plants
- Amaranth plant leaves will be either round or lance shaped, depending upon the variety.
- The leaves on Amaranth plants range in shade from light to dark green, with some varieties boasting a red or even variegated coloring.
- Amaranth leaves are always broad, and are typically stiff and rather long.
- The flowers on Amaranth plants can be either shaped like small globes or be thin and long tassels.
- Amaranth flowers come in several shades including black, white, pink, and yellow. The flower blossoms vary by plant variety, each plant contains only one color of flowers.
- All varieties of Amaranth plants can generate in excess of 100,000 seeds.
- Wild versions of this annual plant generally do not produce as robust of a grain harvest as garden cultivated varieties.
- Cultivated Amaranth plants range in size from 3 feet tall for very small varieties up to 19 feet tall.
- Wild varieties of Amaranth tend to thrive in incredibly hot environments, which is perhaps why they are dismissed as mere weeds when found in pastures and fields, during the summer months.
- Stems on Amaranth plants are rigid and erect, and often have a red cast. Some varieties boast branched or ascending stems that also have linear surface markings. On many varieties of Amaranth the stems are covered with tiny nearly clear hairs.
Amaranth Purchasing Tips
You will not likely be able to find Amaranth plants are your local garden supply center unless you live in an urban or suburban area that carries more eclectic and rare seeds or plants.
Finding Amaranth seeds and live plants online by retailers like
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or even Amazon, which sells not only Amaranth seeds but already processed Amaranth flour, as well.
This hardy annual is incredibly easy to grow. It will quickly cover the area where it is planted virtually erasing any need to clear weeds around anything but young plants.
Seeds can be sown directly outdoors or started indoors. I recommend starting Amaranth seeds about four to six weeks before the anticipated last hard frost of spring.
10 Best Amaranth Varieties to Grow
Golden Giant Amaranth
This variety Amaranth typically grows to heights of at least six feet tall. The Golden Giant Amaranth may be the easiest variety to grow. It is not uncommon for a single plant of this variety to yield 1 pound of white seed from its massive golden flower heads.
Elephant Head Amaranth
Amaranth plants of this variety were first introduced in America during the 1880s. The Elephant Head Amaranth plant originated in Germany, and it’s quickly identifiable by its unique shape.
It has such large and odd shaped flowers that the long and thick stem creates an appearance of a trunk beneath the elephant head style toppers. This Amaranth plant has flowers that are deep red in color and usually stands between three to five feet tall.
This style of Amaranth plant grows brightly colored burgundy flowers. Dreadlocks Amaranth plants typically become so heavy with seed that the tassels droop down in a Weeping Willow or dangling dreadlocks fashion.
This is a shorter version of Amaranth, and commonly grows to heights of three to five feet tall.
Hopi Red Amaranth
The Hopi Native American used this variety of Amaranth plant both as a food and medicine – as well as as a natural dye for leather and cloth. The Hopi piki bread was also tinted red when Amaranth flour was used to make the traditional baked goods. Red Amaranth plants stand between four to six feet tall on average.
Green Calaloo Amaranth
Leaves on this Amaranth plant are light green and a favorite for use in soups, stir fry, and stews. Green Calaloo Amaranth taste a lost like spinach but boasts a bit more of a tangy flavor. This variety of Amaranth is particularly cultivated in the Caribbean island as a primary ingredient in the traditional Callaloo seafood soup recipe.
Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth
This is perhaps the most beautiful of all Amaranth plant varieties. Love Lies Bleeding is an excellent seed producer and exceptionally hardy to a vast array of environments.
The leaves from young plants make excellent raw greens in salads as well as used in cooked recipes, such as casseroles and stews.
Elena’s Rojo Amaranth
This type of Amaranth was nearly eradicated during a civil war in Guatemala.
It was a Baja Verapaz farmer named Elana that worked diligently to cultivate stored seeds to save this red flowering Amaranth plant that had been a part of recipes in the region dating back to the Mayans. Elena’s Rojo Amaranth is exceptionally drought and hot temperature hardy.
Aurelia’s Verde Amaranth
This Amaranth variety was also nearly wiped out due to the same civil war. The seeds saved by a farmer named Aurelia’s family were used to restart crops around the region.
This Amaranth plant is not typically eaten raw or used in cooking recipes, but cultivated nearly exclusively as a grain crop. Aurelia’s Verde Amaranth boast a high content of iron as well as vitamins A, B, and E.
This Amaranth plant variety has green to bronze colored leaves that are broad, long, and spiked. This variety hails from Mexico, and grows especially tender and flavor packed leaves on young plants that taste wonderful when eaten as salad greens.
Juana’s Orange Amaranth
This variety was also nearly lost from the world during civil war. A Baja Verapaz farmer named Juana used the seeds her family had stored for the next growing season to create a new crop of orange Amaranth. Orange Amaranth also has a high percentage of vitamins A, B, and E as well as iron.
Each Amaranth seed packet should offer detailed cultivation directions. The planting tips shared below are general hints, but should help you get the seeds off to a good start and avoid any newbie grower pitfalls.
- When starting seeds indoors, plant to a depth of 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch deep in a well draining seed starter mix or quality compost.
- There is no need to cold stratify or soak Amaranth seeds overnight.
- Plant only one seed in each pot or seed starting tray plant cell.
- Seed germination should occur within 3 to 5 days.
- Amaranth seeds prefer to germinate in an environment where temperatures range from 60 to 90 degrees F.
- Place seed starting trays in full sun or sow outdoors in a full sun area. Amaranth plants will tolerate some shade but thrive best in a full sun environment.
- Neither seeds nor live plants should be placed in soil that is not at least 50 degrees. Amaranth will grow best in soil that is 65 degrees.
- Temperatures colder than 45 degrees, or a frost can kill an Amaranth plant overnight, if not in mere hours.
- When planting in traditional hedge rows, space the Amaranth seeds or live plants 10 to 12 inches a part. If planting a variety that is known to grow in a more bushy shape, plant 14 inches apart. Overcrowding of plants of this variety will nearly always stunt their growth, and decrease the yield.
- When planting Amaranth seeds outdoors in either raised beds of hedge rows, rake up the soil to loosen it, then sprinkle seeds over the distrubed soil. Return the raked soil gently and loosely on top of Amaranth seeds.
- Moist and well draining soil is highly recommended when growing Amaranth seeds or live plants. Both plants and seeds prefer a nitrogen rich soil that drains well, and remains moist but absolutely not wet. A loamy soil is best suited for most Amaranth varieties. A poorly draining clay soil may cause either plant or yield loss.
- Unlike traditional grain crops, Amaranth is incredibly drought tolerant, and can equally withstand periods of dry heat without wilting or experiencing stunted growth.
- Amaranth seeds or live plants cultivated in a moist and well draining soil that is both rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, typically will grow taller, and produce a more robust yield.
- When planting Amaranth in containers, the pot must be 24 inches deep, and have a 5 gallon (but preferably a 10 gallon) capacity.
- Amaranth plants rarely need watering when grown outdoors under normal conditions. During times when rainfall is less than normal for a growing season or during a drought, water the plants up to twice a week – after manually checking the moisture in the soil with your hands.
While Amaranth as a genus is exceptionally hardy, they are still susceptible to some common destructive insects.
Regularly inspecting the leaves, flower heads, and stems of the Amaranth plants for any signs or an insect infestation or disease will help you catch the problem early so it can be rapidly treated and save the plant – or prevent a reduced harvest.
- Amaranth Weevils
- Tarnished Plant Bug
- Flea Beetles
Amaranth weevils are the most destructive pests for this type of plant. They converege on the tops and underbelly of leaves of any age.
The larvae from these weevils are especially damaging because the burrow into the tissue of roots, and sometimes even find their way up into plant stems.
Once the root central tissue damage occurs, the plant will likely being to rot – particularly if the weevils decide to make the stem their home until they reach maturity.
Flea beetles are the other top insect pest to be on the lookout for when raising a crop of Amaranth. They are attracted to the tissue on young leaves.
An infestation of these beetles can cause the plant to either become stunted, or to die out due to the lack of new leaf development during the growing season.
- Damping Off
- Stem Canker
Damping off is the one plant disease that can most often afflict a crop of Amaranth because it tends to happen to young seedlings that grow too much too quickly.
Damping off can also be caused by Pythium. It is a parasitic fungus that can grow in unclean soil, planters, or re-used seed starting trays. It is carried on the feet of the fungus gnat.
To prevent the growth or transfer of this fungus, always clean and disinfect planters, and use quality soil when starting seeds or placing live plants in containers.
The Phomopsis fungus cause the stems and leaves to deteriorate and the , die off. When this occurs either the expected crop yield will be reduced of the plant will die and not produce flowers and seeds at all.
Keeping weeds around the young plants cut back to thwart any pests or diseases that live in them from claiming the Amaranth plants as a host is often the best defense against this powerful plant disease.
It typically takes 90 to 150 days for most varieties of members of this plant family to ripen. Amaranth will not stop growing until a hard frost kills it.
The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season, but the seeds will not typically ripen until the final weeks before a fall frost.
If you plan on harvesting leaves throughout the growing season, to avoid killing the Amaranth plant or stunting its growth, alternate sides from the leaves are snipped or gently plucked and leave a row of leaves at the bottom of the plant.
The plant needs the lower leaves to draw nutrients and energy. You’ll typically want to leave them alone unless you are harvesting the entire plant at once.
- Place a bag over the flower head on the Amaranth plant when the seeds are ripe. The bag must be placed carefully because any jostling of the seed laden flower heads can cause seed loss.
- Close the opening of the bag around the plant stem beneath the flower head using twine or a piece of rope.
- Shake the top of the flower head so the seeds are released into the bag.
- The heads of Amaranth plants can also be cut away from the stem, and placed in a bucket to collect the seeds if you are harvesting from multiple plants at one time. Remember, the more movement the flower head is exposed to, the greater the risk of losing seeds. It is best to have the bucket held up to the top of the flower head height and not swing the arm containing the flower head down toward the ground to reach the bucket. Do not shake the bucket to release the Amaranth seeds until the firm fitting lid has been attached.
- Winnowing (rubbing hands over the harvestable plant matter) is strongly discouraged when collecting seeds from Amaranth plants. The small seeds can be broadcast far and wide by even a mild wind once they are ripe. The friction caused by winnowing along with a potential for a breeze to develop during the process, can lead to significant seed loss.
- Before storing the Amaranth seeds, place them on a fine mesh screen or in cheesecloth – only once you are indoors with closed windows, and gently rotate them back and forth to release any plant matter or other debris before storing.
The seeds should not be washed or exposed to moisture once they have been harvested. Store the seeds in a container – like a Mason jar with a firm-fitting lid, in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight.
I recommend storing the seeds in small containers so when the jar is opened the entire contents inside will be used for planting or recipes.
Each time the jar is open moisture comes into contact with the seeds, reducing their shelf life.
For best results, use Amaranth seeds that have been stored for only a year for planting. When harvested and stored properly, seeds should remain viable for recipe use for a minimum of two years.
Hang drying the flower heads of Amaranth plants to preserve them is not recommended.
As the plant dries the flower tassels will either become entangled with the seeds and cause both frustration and seed loss when separating – or the seeds will fall to the ground as the flower head dries and releases them at will.
The Amaranth seeds harvesting window is incredibly short. Missing it by even a day could leave you with nothing but empty flower heads. As noted above, wind can broadcast your seeds out into the wild.
Birds are another obstacle you will need to overcome at harvest time. Once the seeds are ripe, our feathered friends will literally flock to the plants to gobble up your nutrient rich superfood. Lightly covering the Amaranth plants with bird netting may help prevent extreme seed loss.
How to Dehydrate Amaranth
Amaranth leaves and stems should be washed after being harvested. While stems do not have to be chopped before dehydrating, but it may help greatly to do so.
Uniformity is essential for timely and thorough dehydrating. Any food item that is too thick will delay the drying time, and possibly allow mold or bacteria to grow inside of a thick stem piece.
For best results, use the nuts and herbs setting on your dehydrator or a temperature setting of 130 to 135 degrees. For leaves, it takes approximately four hours for them to thoroughly dry.
Roots and Stems
Stems should be dried on the same setting. Expect the drying process to take between 6 to 8 hours for this thicker part of the plant.
Chopping the stems and roots into thumbnail size bits should condense them in both length and thickness enough to foster timely and complete drying.
Amaranth stems, leaves, and roots can be stored in an airtight container like a Mason jar as noted above in the seeds section or a vacuum sealed bag.
I recommend using a vacuum sealer machine to create as airtight of a seal as possible. Again, do not store anymore of this plant material in a container that what you believe will used in on setting upon opening.
To conserve space or to use the Amaranth more like a spice or as ann easy-to-bake ingredient, consider running the leaves, roots, and stems through a food processor or blender to powder them.
Growing Amaranth on your homestead instead of buying it is but one of the valuable reasons cultivation of this ancient plant should be considered.
The horses, cattle, goats, sheep, hogs, and poultry birds on your homestead will also enjoy eating it, and the nutrient boost it provides.
If you are only growing Amaranth for the seeds to make flour or snipping off leaves to use in the kitchen or in natural home remedies, leave the rest of the plant standing as a fall free choice supplement for the barnyard and coop inhabitants.
Amaranth may also help decrease or outright remove soil contaminants, according to a University of Southern Maine study.
In an agricultural field where spinach was planted as part of a research project, tocin levels in the soil were reduced by a startling 200 ppm – parts per million.
Due to the similar bioremediating makeup of spinach and Amaranth and the increased prowess of this plant, the soil around the area where the Amaranth was planted may reduce even higher levels of soil contaminants.
Once you browse either locally or online to find Amaranth live plants or seeds, the hard work for getting a crop started on your homestead is basically done. Planting this basically maintenance-free crop will likely be the quickest row that goes into your garden.
The only truly difficult aspects of growing Amaranth are narrowing down how many varieties you want to grow, and finding enough space to grow as many as you want of this ancient “superfood” of a crop.