Amaranth is not a single plant or even technically a spice or grain, like so many folks think, but something every prepper should be growing in their survival garden.
Amaranth is a group of 60 distinct varieties of grains that have been used both as food and for their proposed medicinal benefits for nearly 10,000 years. Because of its high nutrient content Amaranth has often been referred to as a superfood.
Most Amaranth varieties are summer to early fall blooming annuals. Amaranth grows naturally everywhere on the planet except Antarctica. This plant genus is a member of the Amaranthaceae family. Both sugar beets and spinach are members of this same genus.
The leaves, seeds, and oil created by the Amaranth plant have all been used for food and cooking purposes. The whole plant has also been used as a base ingredient in natural home remedies dating back centuries.
This beautiful plant type shares a great deal in common with traditional cereal grains like oats, barley, and wheat. But, Amaranth boasts more protein that most grains typically cultivated in the United States. Oats contains 26.1 grams of protein, but Amaranth is comprised of 28.1 grams.
During a SHTF situation, keeping the body fueled with protein will be essential. More manual labor and hours spent awake on perimeter security detail will zap the strength and vigor of survivors.
Supplementing the protein garnered from animal sources, which will likely become scarce over time, can easily be accomplished by cultivating and preserving a crop of the hardy Amaranth plant.
Because plant-based protein contains less cholesterol and fat consumed when biting into a big, fat, juice and delicious steak, it is a healthier option, as well.
Consuming Amaranth to increase the gluten-free protein in your diet may help you develop lean muscle mass without worrying about consuming so much red meat that develops heart disease.
Amaranth also can provide lysine to our daily diet. Lysine in an essential amino acid that the human body cannot create on its own. Lysine aids in the metabolization of fatty acids, turning them into energy and enhancing the absorption of calcium, as well.
Lysine might also be useful in preventing hair thinning and loss. Amaranth boasts more of this vital compounds than any other traditional grain crop.
Leaves of the Amaranth plant possess a nutritional makeup that is similar to Swiss chard, spinach, and beets, but contain a more powerful nutritional punch than all three.
There are nine grams of protein in just one cup of Amaranth – that’s two more grams than found in quinoa.
More Amaranth Nutritional Facts
- This plant also contains higher percentages of iron, calcium, and magnesium than other grains – corn contains none of these noted compounds. Amaranth contains seven times more iron than lettuce.
- Amaranth actually boasts twice as much calcium content than milk and 20 times more calcium than spinach.
- It is the only grain type plant to contain vitamin C. The leaves of Amaranth plants contain the highest levels of vitamin C.
- Amaranth possesses high percentages of carotene, potassium, niacin, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E, folate, and phosphorus.
- The plant may also act like a natural appetite suppressant because protein decreases the level of insulin in the bloodstream and in turn releases a hormone that makes the body not feel as hungry.
Nutrients In 1 Cup of Amaranth
- 251 calories
- 46 grams of carbohydrates
- 5.2 grams of fat
- 9 grams of protein
- 36% of the recommended daily amount of phosphorus
- 40% of the recommended daily amount of magnesium
- 105% of the recommended daily amount of manganese
- 18% of the recommended daily amount of copper
- 19% of the recommended daily amount of selenium
- 29% of the recommended daily amount of iron
Manganese is particularly vital for proper brain function, and to protect the body from developing specific neurological conditions. Phosphorus helps foster good bone health.
Amaranth Natural Remedy Compounds and Uses
The natural antioxidants found in Amaranth may help protect the body from free radicals that can spark the development of several chronic medical conditions, and cause cell damage.
The phenolic acids present in Amaranth include: vanillic acid, gallic acid, and p-hydroxybenzoic acid. These are natural antioxidants may help prevent heart disease and some types of cancers, according to NCBI studies.
Amaranth may also help protect the body from infection and inflammation injuries, that may lead to the development of diabetes, some types of cancer, and autoimmune disorders.
This plant may also reduce the body’s production of immunoglobulin E – an antibody that is involved with the body’s response to allergic inflammation.
Some animal research studies have shown that Amaranth oil may decrease bad cholesterol levels by as much as 22%.
In a related study using chickens as test subjects, Amaranth consumption reduced total cholesterol by 30%, and bad cholesterol by as much as 70%.
Amaranth and Amaranth oil in particular have been used as a base ingredient in natural home remedies to treat a variety of common conditions:
- Sore Gums
- External Wound Wash
Amaranth Oil Uses
Amaranth oil has been used both residentially and commercially in shampoos, hair conditioners, cosmetics, lubricants, food products, and in aromatic products.
This natural oil boasts a potent concentration of squalene – a moisturizing and possibly skin rejuvenating natural compound. Squalene is often used in products designed to treat various types of skin issues, such as acne, atpic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis.
What Parts Of The Amaranth Plant Are Edible?
In many parts of the world, in South America especially, Amaranth is deemed a traditional garden vegetable crop. Even though the leaves of all 60 varieties are edible, some do boast prickly spines that have to be removed before preparing as a food.
The tips of older plants and young plants in general, are known to be quite tasty, and are used on dinner plates as a routine vegetable.
The stems of the Amaranth plant are also edible, but are not quite as tender and flavorful as the leaves. Young stems can be cooked, fried, or boiled in their raw state but the stems from older plants will almost always need to be peeled as part of the food preparation process.
It is not only the seeds and leaves that are commonly used for human consumption. Amaranth oil might be helpful in lowering cholesterol levels. This plant has been used to make flavorful and aged ale for hundreds to thousands of years.
Dishes and Cooking Recommendations
- Use Amaranth as a highly flavorful spinach alternative in recipes.
- Use raw and washed leaves as salad greens.
- Amaranth is often sold in bulk in seed form at health food stores. These seeds are typically used to make a nutrient-rich flour.
- Amaranth seeds are also commonly mixed in a one to three Amaranth to liquid (milk or water) ratio to make a hot oatmeal type breakfast dish. Bring the mixture to a boil and then allow it to simmer for roughly 20 minutes to permit all of the liquid to absorb fully into the grain.
- Stir some Amaranth into fruit or vegetable smoothies to increase the protein, vitamins, fiber, and other nutrient content of the drink – and to make it more filling.
- Amaranth can be used as a substitute for rice or pasta in recipes that call for these staple foods.
- You can also mix Amaranth into stew, chili, and soup to make it more nutritious, filling, and to increase thickness.
- Popped seeds can be used as a cereal grain.
How to Prepare Amaranth
This versatile plant can be prepared in multiple ways – each of them quick and easy. In addition to the seed popping and porridge making methods noted above, you can also sprout Amaranth by soaking it in water for 24 to 36 hours to get the grains to germinate.
Consumption of the sprouts may break apart the “antinutrients” that can deter proper the absorption of minerals and make Amaranth easier to digest in the process.
Leaves from the Amaranth plant can be boiled for roughly 10 minutes and then seasoned with your favorites spices. Salt, pepper, vinegar, butter, or olive oil are highly recommended.
Coat a skillet lightly with oil or butter, then place seasoned Amaranth leaves inside to lightly fry. These leaves taste delicious when coupled with plantain, wild or cultivated onions, and garlic.
The nutrient compounds in Amaranth may also help reduce or remove contaminants in soil. A University of Southern Maine study revealed a field that had spinach planted in it for merely three months showed drastically reduced toxin levels in the soil – a reduction of a total of 200 ppm.
Because spinach and Amaranth share the same bioremediating properties, this plant could also be used to clear contaminated soil.
History of Amaranth
The Aztecs called Amaranth “huauhtli”. They widely used this grain style plant for fulfill the bulk of their protein and general caloric needs during the development of Mesoamerica.
These early people also made Amaranth a part of their cultural rituals. The time from December 7 to December 26 was known as the month of Panquetzaliztli. During this time the Aztecs built a statue to their god, Huitzilopochtli – using seeds from the Amaranth plant and honey.
After the conquest by the Spanish, the growing of Amaranth became illegal, but the hardy plant neverly really disappeared from the landscape. In Mexico, folks both from ancient times to the present, pop Amaranth to eat as a snack. It is still soundly considered an integral part of indigenous culture in the country.
Amaranth was also prevalently used in the early Latin America, Central American, and Himalayan cultures. The use of Amaranth as a source of food and natural medicine ingredient is also prominent in Asia and India. In China, red leafed varieties of Amaranth were favored in both foodstuffs, and in ancient natural medicines.
What Does Amaranth Look Like?
- While the colors and wide vary between the plethora of Amaranth varieties, this plant always shares the same broad leaf, moderately high, and stiff upright nature.
- Leaves on Amaranth plants can vary from lance shaped to round, and contain leaves that are reddish, dark green, light green, or even variegated in shade.
- Seeds on Amaranth plants come in pink, white, yellow, and black shades, depending upon the variety.
- The flowers on an Amaranth plant can present as either long tassels or tiny globes. The flowers on Amaranth plant varieties are cream, red, yellow, or pink.
- Each Amaranth plant is capable of producing more than 100,000 seeds.
- Amaranth can grow in the wild, much like its cousin – the common pigweed. Wild Amaranth can be used edibly and as medicine just like cultivated varieties. Wild versions do not typically produce as much “grain” or grow as big and leafy as cultivated varieties.
- Cultivated Amaranth generally ranges in size between 6 to as much as 19 feet tall (1.82 to 5.8 meters), unless pruned.
- Loves Lies Bleeding is perhaps the most popular ornamental version of an Amaranth plant in the United States. Most folks do not even realize this strikingly beautiful plant is either Amaranth or edible.
Wild Amaranth varieties grow during the hot months of the year in temperate climates and, like pigweed, are often dubbed mere weeds.
Cultivated Amaranth is typically as hardy as the easy to propagate wild versions.
Where to Buy Amaranth
Amaranth seeds and plants are surely not commonplace and most garden centers and greenhouses. If you want to grow your own superfood and medicinal plants, odds are an online search will be in your future.
Amaranth is not difficult to grow, and can be cultivated throughout the United States in even subpar soil. All 60 varieties of Amaranth can be started indoors, then transplanted outside or sown directly in the ground once the threat of the last hard frost has passed.
The most difficult part of growing Amaranth is deciding which variety to cultivate – but there is really no need to limit yourself to just one type.
If you are growing the plant primarily for the leaves to use in food and home remedies, consider a variety that is prone to producing a large number of leaves, and grows in a bushier style shape.
While you can eat the leaves from the Amaranth plant at any time, they taste more tender, and have better flavor when coming from young plants.
It is best to leave the bottom leaves on a plant so it can continue to garner energy and nutrients near the root system to keep it growing and producing for future harvesting.
Top 10 Amaranth Varieties to Grow in the United States
1. Dreadlocks Amaranth
This Amaranth variety boasts bright burgundy blooms – while beautiful, they might be too eye catching from an OPSEC perspective.
The tassel flower heads sometimes become so laden with seeds that they develop a weeping posture – even sometimes touching down to the ground. Dreadlocks Amaranth plants typically only grow to reach heights of 3 feet tall (90 centimeters).
You can get Dreadlocks Amaranth on Amazon.com.
2. Hopi Red Amaranth
The Hopi tribe used this plant not just to eat and use as a natural medicine, but also as a dye plant. One of the many ways the dye was used, was in the making of the delicious Hopi piki bread.
Red Amaranth plants typically grow to be four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) tall. You can order some Hopi Red Amaranth seeds here.
3. Golden Giant Amaranth
This Amaranth variety commonly grows to be up to six feet (1.8 meters) tall. Golden Giant Amaranth is often noted as one of the easiest varieties to cultivate.
Plants of this variety often produce one pound of white seed from the many golden hued flower heads it also grows. Get Golden Giant Amaranth on Amazon.
4. Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth
This attractive variety of Amaranth hits heights of three to four feet tall, on average. Love Lies Bleeding is also incredibly easy to cultivate, and produces an overabundance of seeds.
The young leaves on this Amaranth plant are often favored for cooking – especially as greens in hot recipes. You can get Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth seeds right here.
5. Elephant Head Amaranth
This variety of Amaranth did not arrive in the United States until the 1880s, and hails from Germany. It produces massive flower heads (hence the name), making the stem adopt the appearance of an elephant’s trunk.
The Elephant Head Amaranth plant usually grows to heights of three to five feet tall, and boasts dark deep red flowers. You can find Elephant Head Amaranth seeds on Amazon.com.
6. Green Calaloo Amaranth
This variety is especially popular in the Caribbean islands where it is used as a base ingredient in the Calaloo seafood soup.
The leaves on this Amaranth plant are light green in color. The young leaves are used frequently as additions to stews and soups, and are known for their spinach style and tangy taste.
Green Calaloo Amaranth leaves are also terrific in stir fry recipes. This Amaranth plant grows best in warm weather regions.
You can get Green Calaloo Amaranth seeds on Amazon.
7. Elena’s Rojo Amaranth
This Amaranth variety produces red flowers, and has been a traditional garden staple crop in Guatemala for thousands of years.
The plant was named after a Baja Verapaz farmer who helped revive this crop which had been grown by the Mayans, after the variety was nearly wiped out during a civil war.
I have successfully grown this hardy Amaranth strain on our Appalachian survival retreat for many years, and I’m always impressed how it can equally withstand times of both intense rain and drought.
8. Opopeo Amaranth
The flowers on this heirloom Mexican variety of Amaranth grow both large and into spike shapes. The bronze to green hued leaves are incredibly tender and flavorful when picked while they are still young.
This Amaranth variety is among the easiest to germinate, in my personal opinion. You can get Opopeo Amaranth on Amazon.com.
9. Aurelia’s Verde Amaranth
This Guatemalan Amaranth variety is typically only grown for grain harvesting – but the leaves can be eaten and oil extracted from the plant.
Aurelia’s Verde Amaranth may boast even higher than typical percentages of vitamins A.B. and E – as well as iron content. This Amaranth plant was also from the Baja Verapaz area, and was once heavily cultivated by the Mayans.
It too was nearly wiped out during a civil war in the country. Aurelia’s Verde Amaranth is named after another female farmer who used the seeds saved by her family to bring back the nutrient-rich “grain” crop. To an untrained eye, it may slightly resemble goldenrod.
You can get Aurelia’s Verde Amaranth seeds on Amazon.
10. Juana’s Orange Amaranth
Juana was a farmer from Baja Verapaz who used seeds her family had also saved to bring back this nearly eradicated crop after the same civil war in Guatemala.
This variety may also boast a more potent percentage of vitamins A, B, and E – and iron than some of the other varieties.
You can get Juana’s Orange Amaranth seeds here.
How to Plant Amaranth
Each type of Amaranth will come complete with any specific seed starting instructions on the back. However, these tips below can help you get started in the garden planning and planting process for any variety of this “superfood” plant you decide to grow.
Amaranth can be planted in a typical seed starting tray with one seed per cell, and later hardened off and transplanted outdoors or sown directly into the ground in the late spring after the last hard frost had most likely passed.
It typically takes Amaranth seeds three to four days to germinate when planted a space that boasts a 60 to 90 degree F (15 to 32 Celsius) temperature. There is no need to soak or stratify Amaranth seeds.
Amaranth plants prefer full sun.
The one thing that can kill an Amaranth crop quickly is frost. All varieties prefer warm sunshine to cool weather. Never plant Amaranth seeds or plants outdoors in the spring before the soil has warmed to at least 50 but preferably, 65 degrees F (10 to 18 Celsius).
When starting the seeds indoors do so roughly six to 11 weeks before the threat of the last hard is anticipated.
Amaranth seeds should be planted in hedge rows 10 to 12 inches (24 to 30 cm) apart to allow adequate growing room. Amaranth plants can still thrive when they are slightly crowded, but will not produce an optimal yield when they are bunched in too closely together.
If planting the Amaranth outdoors in hedgerows or raised beds, you can merely broadcast the seeds thinly across the soil, and then rake it in to start the cultivation process.
Amaranth is not unlike any other quick growing variety of green vegetables. These seeds and plants thrive in a nitrogen rich soil that remains moist, but not wet and is well draining.
Although Amaranth prefers a moist soil, it is highly tolerant of drought – far more so than most other leafy green varieties. This nutrient-rich plant is exceptionally hardy, and copes well during periods of dry weather and intense heat without wilting.
When Amaranth is grown in soil that is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, it will almost always reach taller heights. The best soil for Amaranth plants is one with a loamy mix. These plants should grow in any type of soil except poorly draining clay.
Amaranth plants will need watering only one or two times a week during dry periods. As long as you are garnering enough rain to keep the soil moist, manual watering should not be necessary.
If planting Amaranth in a container garden, the tub will need to be two feet deep, and have at least a five gallon capacity.
Amaranth will continue to grow and flower until exposed to the first hard frost of fall.
The seeds on any variety of Amaranth will not be ready to harvest until just a few weeks before the end of the natural growing season as temperatures turn chilly, but will ripen several weeks prior. It typically takes Amaranth seed 90 days to ripen.
It takes the seed grain 110 to 150 days to harvest in most varieties.
Leaves can be harvested at any time during the growing process. It is best not to take too many at once if you want the Amaranth to continue to grow and produce grain.
As noted above, always leave the first layer or two of leaves at the bottom of the stem so the plant can continue to garner energy from them. Simply pinch or snip off the leaves to harvest.
Never yank the leaves free unless you are done growing the plant because doing so can damage the stem and tassels.
To harvest seeds from the Amaranth plant, place a sack over the “head” of the plant. Clasp the opening of the bag tightly closed with one hand or a piece of twine, and then shake the head to release the hundreds to thousands of seeds directly into the sack.
Hang drying Amaranth plants to preserve or to harvest the seeds never tends to work well. The chaff becomes very brittle, and bristles around the seeds during the air drying process, making it more difficult to separate the grain from the chaff.
You can cut off the heads of all of the Amaranth plants at once, and place them into a large bucket with a firm fitting lid, then shake vigorously for several minutes to release the seeds.
Please take note, Amaranth seeds are tiny and can be blown away by even a mild wind. Using the hand rubbing (or winnowing) method to release the seeds into a bucket placed on the ground below the plant will almost ALWAYS result in the loss of many valuable seeds.
Once indoors, shake the seeds through a screen or fine mesh strainer to remove any debris of chaff still attached.
If you are unsure when to harvest seeds during the first year of growing Amaranth, watch how the birds in your area respond to the plants. Birds absolutely love Amaranth seeds, and will begin nose diving into your plants as soon as they ripen.
If you dally even a day, the birds and not your family will be enjoying the grain created by your gardening efforts.
Preserving Amaranth Seeds and Leaves
Place clean unwashed seeds into an airtight container – like a Mason jar with a firm fitting lid of a vacuum sealed bag.
Vacuum seal the Mason jar lift you have the right attachment for a vacuum sealing machine to do so. Store the seeds in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight.
Typically, regardless of variety, Amaranth seeds are only truly viable for a single year after harvesting. If you are preserving the seeds to use for cooking, baking, or making flour, they should have a shelf life of a minimum of two (in my personal experience 5) years if stored properly.
You will probably have some “volunteer” Amaranth plants pop up after the first planting thanks to ripe seeds taken away by the wind or excreted by birds.
You can dehydrate the cleaned stems and leaves of the plants to preserve them. I have both solar dried and used a moderately priced residential dehydrator to preserve Amaranth leaves and stems.
I used the herb and nuts setting on my machine and dry the leaves for approximately five hours and stems up to eight hours. For best results and more thorough drying, chop the stems into thumbnail size pieces to reduce their bulk before placing them either in the machine or out in the sun to dry.
Store the dried Amaranth leaves and stems in the same manner as noted above for Amaranth seeds. I recommend storing the leaves in small amounts unless you plan on using the entire jar in large batch frying, baking, boiling, stir frying, or using as salad greens.
Each time the container is opened the leaves will be exposed to moisture and potential bacteria that will ruin them or potentially make them dangerous to consume.
The protein content in Amaranth should make it a top gardening priority for preppers. This hardy superfood that is often mistaken for a weed is chock-full of nutrients that can help keep our bodies healthy and strong during a long-term survival situation.
Cultivating a crop of Amaranth will not only give you a nutrient rich survival food to add to your prepper pantry, but can be used to sustain your meat and egg animals – as well as your off grid transportation (horses) during a long-term disaster.
Amaranth can be planted in grazing pastures or anywhere on your survival retreat to be cultivated and preserved – or given as a free choice feed supplement to cows, horses, chickens, turkeys, guineas, goats, sheep, and hogs.
Amaranth could also be planted near a hunting blind to draw in deer; they love these colorful and nutrient rich plants, as well.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.