There is a long tradition that considers amaranth a sacred plant. The name amaranth derives from the Greek amarantos, meaning "that does not wither". Hence the meaning attributed to it by the Greeks as a plant of friendship, mutual esteem and more generally an expression of all true feelings that should never change with the passage of time, as they are eternal and unique. In Greek mythology it is said that the goddesses loved to be celebrated with garlands of amaranth; in this context, amaranth was therefore used to obtain protection and benevolence. The Romans attributed to amaranth the power to ward off envy and misfortune. In the period '600-'800 amaranth was used to decorate clothes and dresses, as it was thought to be able to give physical well-being.
Amaranth is an interesting plant in many ways. Indeed, it has undoubted decorative qualities thanks to its inflorescences and its brightly colored leaves. However, it is also held in high regard for its seeds, edible and usable in many ways. They are very valuable for their protein and mineral content and are increasingly sought after in our country.
Amaranth is an annual herbaceous plant with very variable height. The species cultivated for ornamental purposes rarely exceed the meter, those used for the production of seeds can instead reach 3 meters. The leaves differ greatly depending on the species and can be oval to lanceolate. The inflorescences, produced in summer, are panniculus and large (they can even exceed 1 meter in length). Here they are generally dark red, but there are also varieties that have green, yellow or mixed colors. The seeds, white, yellow or black, are very small (less than 1 mm in diameter) and light. Their shape resembles that of lentils, but with a more flattened edge.
|AMARANTH IN BRIEF|
|Latin name||Fam. Amarantaceae, gen amaranthus|
|Type of plant||Annual herbaceous with deciduous leaves|
|Height width||Up to three meters / up to 80 cm|
|use||Pot, border, flower beds|
|ground||Clayey, calcareous, rich|
Etymology and language of flowers
The name amaranth derives from the Greek and means "immortal" or "that does not wither". The flower is in fact very durable both on the plant and when it is cut. Precisely for this reason it is an excellent subject to use for dry compositions.
From this characteristic also derives its meaning in the language of flowers: it is given when you wish a lasting love and everlasting fidelity.
History of amaranth
Amaranth originates from Central America. It was one of the most ancient plants domesticated by man as its seeds were found in tombs dating back more than 4000 years ago.
It was held in great esteem by all pre-Columbian civilizations who had sensed its great nutritional potential. The peak of its cultivation occurred with the Mayan, Aztec and Inca civilizations. It was also considered a curative food and used in various religious rites.
He was credited with invigorating, aphrodisiac and even esoteric virtues. Consequently it became a sacred and very precious plant, to be offered to the Gods, during celebrations and inside the tombs. On special occasions (and still today) amaranth was ground or toasted and then mixed with American agave honey. The pasta that was obtained was used to make small figures of animals, warriors or gods. At the end of the ceremony the figures were cut and eaten by the people who took part in it.
From the discovery of America to today
The arrival of the Spaniards coincided with the condemnation of this cultivation and all related uses. In fact, its use seemed too tied to pagan rites and it was decided to suffocate it. Even today it is rarely used in Central American cuisine, despite being an integral part of many traditional dishes.
It arrived in Europe around 1700 and was for a long time used only for ornamental purposes (and even in this case those who wanted to insert it in the garden were hindered due to the prejudice).
In the 1970s, some American universities analyzed the seeds and enhanced the nutritional qualities of the product. From that moment the cultivation became more interesting, also thanks to the adaptability of the plant to different soil and climate situations.
Amaranth loves rich and fresh substrates, preferably neutral or sub-alkaline, with a good supply of calcium. It is always important to incorporate plenty of mature manure, floured or in pellets. This, in addition to enriching the soil with nutrients, will improve its texture and vitality.
To obtain vigorous growth and an abundant production of inflorescences it is essential to place the amaranth in a sunny position, where it receives direct sunlight for at least five hours a day. For the plant not to suffer damage it is also extremely important to place it where it is very sheltered from the winds. The adult size, both of the stems and of the flowers, can in fact make it very vulnerable to gusts.
Amaranth grows equally well in pots, as long as it is medium-large in size. The ideal substrate in this case is a mixture of equal parts of soil for flowering plants and clayey and rich field earth. However, we always incorporate a few handfuls of slow release fertilizer, with good amounts of potassium.
In flowerbeds and borders, it is an excellent summer companion for cosmoses, dahlias, lavatere and Ajuga reptans.
Sowing takes place in the North between April and May, while in the South it can be done as early as the end of March, that is when frosts are unlikely.
You can proceed by using alveolar trays with rather large jars (inserting three seeds for each) or directly planted in rows or broadcasting. The minimum temperatures for germination are around 15 ° C.
The seeds (which we can recover ourselves) remain viable for at least three years.
Once germination has taken place, we transfer to the home (in the case of using trays) or proceed with thinning. We leave only the most vigorous plants respecting a distance of 50-80 cm from each other.
To have a luxuriant growth, amaranth needs frequent irrigation and a soil capable of staying fresh for a long time. It is therefore important to intervene often, preventing the area near the foot from drying out completely.
The administrations must be even more frequent for potted subjects, especially during periods of strong heat. In that case it may be useful to use the saucer.
Amaranth reaches considerable heights. It is therefore important to help its stability by providing it with braces.
To stimulate the production of floral panniculus it is good to remove the withered ones as soon as possible. This will also help prevent the plant from becoming invasive.
A further help to prolong the flowering season comes from the fortnightly administrations of fertilizer for flowering plants. Liquid products are ideal for potted individuals, while slow release granular ones are more suitable for those in the ground.
Parasites and diseases
It is a resistant plant but can become a victim of aphids, snails and slugs.
|first name||cultivar||Flowering||height||Other characteristics|
|Amaranthus caudatus (foxtail)||Generally red, but there are cultivars with yellow and green flowers||July September||1 m||Foliage with red veins.|
Small flowers in decumbent bunches.
|Amaranthus tricolor||Insignificant||1 m||Beautiful foliage, from green to red to bright yellow|
|Amaranthus hypochondriacus (paniculate)||July September||Up to 1.50 m||Edible leaves and seeds.|
Amaranth in the kitchen
As we have said, amaranth is rich in virtues and is increasingly appreciated by those who love light and healthy cuisine. It is also particularly appreciated by vegetarians and vegans for its large supply of high biological value proteins, which are difficult to find in other fruits or vegetables or seeds.
It is first of all very rich in lysine, an essential amino acid absent in most cereals. It also provides up to 13% of high quality proteins.
It is also abundant in calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium and phosphorus. It also provides a good amount of lecithin, useful for the functioning of the cardio-circulatory system and for the health of the coronary arteries.
Its fats are for the most part unsaturated, therefore useful for the fight against inflammation, for blood values and to keep memory active.
It is therefore recommended for elderly people, children, pregnant women. The latter find there a valid help against osteoporosis, given the abundant supply of calcium.
Before using them, they must be washed thoroughly under water, using a very dense fabric strainer (given their size).
Then cover them with double the volume of cold water and cook slowly, with a lid, for about 20 minutes.
When cooked they have a rather sticky and particular consistency. They go well with vegetables or mixed with cereals or legumes.
It can be used to replace up to 25% of cereal flour. It will make the dough softer, moist and sweet. It is a good way to reduce the use of sugars and consequently the calorie intake of food.
The germinated seeds
As with all seeds, germination increases the nutritional properties exponentially.
An easy way to obtain this product is to wash the seeds and then put them in a jar filled to the brim with water. This will need to be changed twice a day. After about 72 hours the first radicle will appear. They remain edible for about three days from that moment. They are excellent in salads, in yoghurt, on vegetables. The ideal is to eat them raw, so that they retain all their virtues.
Leaves and Flowers
Let's take them only from plants that we have grown personally and taking care not to use any type of pesticide. The leaves that appear in spring (between April and June) are the most tender and suitable for consumption. They can be used raw in salads or to accompany other vegetables. However, they can also be steamed.
The flowers, on the other hand, are eaten when they are very young, shortly after their appearance. They are used raw in salads or as a decoration on dishes.