Amaranth {Amaranthus retroflexus}

Amaranthus retroflexus

Description: A stout, erect weed with alternate leaves.  Long stalked leaves are widest near base with a blunt short pointed tip and a wavy margin.  The tiny green flowers occur in dense spiky clusters at the end of stems as well as in the axils of leaves.They are rough to the the touch. Rounded black seeds.

The redroot amaranth (A. retroflexus) is perhaps the most widespread. The lower stem & taproot are red or red striped. Flowers bloom from the stem tips (terminally), often in proportionately long racemes.  Redroot amaranth can grow to about 60 inches tall but is generally around 24 inches.

Blooms early spring to late summer.

Habitat: Common in vacant lots, waste areas, roadsides, pastures & gardens.

CAUTION: This plant has been shown to be capable of concentrating nitrates and has been implicated in livestock loss.  Growing conditions were probably directly responsible for the toxic accumulation of nitrates.  Excessive fertilizer and drought conditions can both cause problems.

Uses: Amaranth leaves are best picked at an early age, before the plant flowers.  Prepare the leaves & stems fresh in salad as cooked like spinach.  Due to its bland taste, the addition of curly dock and mustard leaves contributes a great deal to the taste.

Amaranth grains & greens are highly nutritious. Besides protein, they contain a wide spectrum of minerals & vitamins. Amaranth is grown in many Third World countries as a drought-tolerant ally against hunger.

Amaranth seeds were used by the Indians in making bread. Strip the seed heads into a paper bag. Spread the heads on a plastic sheet in the sun & allow to dry for several days. Use a broom handle and thrash the seed heads to thoroughly separate the seeds.  Winnow by tossing the material into the air during a light breeze.  Dry on a tray in the oven (375 degrees F.) for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Grind the seeds & use for a flour in making breath.

Other: Due to the persistent flowers of some species of Amaranth, the Greeks made this plant symbolic of immortality.  The flowers were spread on graves to show their belief in the immortality of the soul.

Bibliography:  Edible & Poisonous Plants of Northern California, by James WiltensEdible and Medicinal Plants of the West, by Gregory L. Tilford

Database Entry: Melanie Dixon & Distance Everheart 5-25-13, Distance Everheart 9-28-13

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