Growing Nutritious, Edible Amaranth

This powerhouse plant will pump out nutty-tasting seeds and spinach-flavored leaves throughout the growing season, while its seedheads add interest to your garden.


| Fall 2017


You may have seen highly-touted amaranth listed as an ingredient on a box of cereal or in baked goods, such as bread, pasta, and crackers. Botanically a pseudo-grain rather than a true grain, such as wheat and rye, amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) has been grown for its tiny, nutritious seeds for thousands of years in Central America, India, Africa, and China. The Aztecs, who called amaranth huauhtli, used it as food and in religious ceremonies. They mixed the seeds with honey and occasionally human blood to render images of deities for worship. Amaranth nearly disappeared from the region after this practice was forbidden by the Spanish in the 15th century.

Five centuries later, during the 1970s, interest in growing amaranth gained traction because of its healthful attributes — amaranth is high in protein and fiber — and today a few thousand acres of the crop are sown annually in the United States. The seeds of the plants are harvested in fall, and then they’re cleaned, sorted, and packaged for sale as a food that’s cooked much like quinoa (a relative of amaranth). Some amaranth grain is milled into flour. Amaranth doesn’t contain gluten, so it’s becoming increasingly popular among people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease. As a bonus, amaranth grains can be heated until they pop, much like corn kernels. In Mexico, the popped seeds are mixed with honey and other foods, such as chocolate and nuts, for a tasty snack called alegría. You can try our nutty breakfast alternative to white-flour pancakes.

Amaranth has another edible advantage: the leaves can be harvested as a vegetable. You can pick them as microgreens as soon as they sport two sets of true leaves, or you can wait and harvest baby leaves for fresh salads. Older leaves may be enjoyed steamed, sautéed, or baked in a variety of dishes, in the same way you would use spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard.

Growing Amaranth

Home gardeners can easily grow amaranth for grain and microgreens. Amaranth needs plenty of sunlight to be at its most productive, so you should choose a site with a minimum of six hours of full sun. This is a crop that likes the heat! The soil should be loose, not too heavy with clay particles, and have a pH in the range of 6.5 to 7.5. Amaranth will not grow well in consistently damp plots, so be sure drainage is good in the chosen location. Amaranth is drought-tolerant after it’s established and requires little supplementary water unless your climate is very arid.



The soil doesn’t need to be especially fertile — in fact, too much nitrogen (especially for amaranth grown as grain) will cause the plants to become leggy and difficult to harvest. Amend the soil with a light application of compost when preparing the planting site, but don’t worry about adding any other fertilizer later on.

Sow amaranth seed directly into warm soil in late May or early June in most regions. Amaranth germinates in 7 to 14 days at a minimum ambient temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Amaranth is an annual and grows very rapidly, but if your frost-free season is short and you’re eager to grow it for grain, you can step up the process by starting the seeds indoors in late April. Don’t forget to harden off tender seedlings before transplanting outdoors in late spring.

patinoxford
3/24/2018 10:09:19 AM

I have seeds harvested last fall. Can anyone tell me if I need to cold stratify them in order to plant / grow them this summer? Thanks! (jmpcgall@gmail.com)








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