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About Amaranth


(Amaranthus gangeticus) There are many members of the amaranth family. They are known as careless weed, pig weed and other uncomplimentary names, but all are eaten in various parts of the world. Some are grown primarily for their seed which is treated as a grain, others are decorative, and some are considered weeds. However, we are concerned with only those cultivated as a leaf vegetable, among them A.tricolor, A.oleraceus, A.dubius and A.spinosus.

The main two types grown as a feafy food crop are loosely termed green amaranth and red amaranth. Red amaranth is sold as 'Chinese spinach' (though it is not spinach), 'een choy' or 'hsien'.

The plant has dark green leaves splotched and deeply veined in red. It is delicious, cooks quickly and has even more nutritional value than spinach. Recognize it by its pink roots and oval leaves which may have patches of red along the center vein.

Green amaranth grows to about a meter tall. The leaves are oval with pointed tips and slightly furry undersides, and have a flavor that stands up to spices. Amaranth is higher in protein than many beans and contains vitamin A, calcium and iron.

If the weeds in your garden turn out to be the ubiquitous green amaranth, give thanks to Mother Nature and make the best of it. Don't spray with weed killer and don't pull them out by the roots. Pinch out the tender tops of the plants and cook them. Wherever you pick, the plant branches and produces more leaves, providing an inexhaustible source of fresh greens throughout the warmer months. Remove any flowers which develop. These are small and insignificant, forming on small flexible spikes at the crown of the plant.

Some species of Amaranthus, especially A.leucocarpus produce seeds in abundance. When mature, these are gathered and ground into meal by native North Americans and Latin Americans.

Purchasing and storing : Like any leafy vegetable, buy fresh and sprightly looking bunches with the roots on. If only leaves are sold, cook and eat them as soon as possible. If you do have to keep them a day or two, wrap them in damp paper, put this in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Whole plants will keep in the same way for about a week, but remember that the fresher it is when consumed, the more food value it will have.

Preparation : Discard roots and tough lower stems. Wash very thoroughly to get rid of sand which is harbored in most leafy vegetables. Cook as spinach, add to soups, or stir-fry with spices.

Medicinal uses : Chinese people eat amaranth during summer, believing it to 'reduce internal heat and dampness'. It is most often added to soups, but also stir-fried with garlic. The roots are used to alleviate colds, and are also considered a diuretic.

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