Margaret Lauterbach

Edible amaranths provide resilient, nutritious plants

Amaranth seeds are rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins C, A, and B-6.
Amaranth seeds are rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins C, A, and B-6.

Have you grown amaranth on purpose? Many folks grow some Amaranths for ornament, since most are attractive plants. One of the most popular varieties is “Love Lies Bleeding,” or Amaranthus cruentus. Some folks grow elephant head amaranth, A. gangeticus, that definitely grows as an annual. Some amaranths grow as annuals, others as short-lived perennials. It is native to the Americas, so it’s not surprising there are also weedy amaranths that grow here, that we call pigweed.

Amaranths grown for human consumption or even those for ornamental gardens are tolerant of our alkaline soil, our climate and low water conditions. They’re so resilient and nutritious they’re growing rapidly in popularity in India and China.

Edible amaranth is unusually full of nutrition, including high protein and lysine content in the “grains” (seeds). Several years ago, Organic Gardening magazine was so enthusiastic about the benefits of amaranth they offered free seeds. From those free seeds I grew amaranth for the leaves, and tried to eat them raw, as in salads, but they were coarse and dry, not the kind of salad I was interested in. I didn’t try cooking the leaves, but should have.

Leafy amaranth is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins C, A, and B-6. Amaranth seeds are even richer in those elements as well as providing protein and lysine in a form humans can use. It was an important crop for the early Aztecs and other indigenous people of the Americas. Its weedy origin is evident in the ease and speed of growing. Some of the seedheads grow very large, up to a kilogram, containing a million tiny seeds.

Amaranth grains are usually green, gold, yellow, red or burgundy when ripe, and each tiny seed is contained in a husk that must be removed by rubbing between gloved hands, then winnowing the chaff. The raw grains are strongest in protein, since cooking reduces that nutrient. One historically and current popular use of the grains is to pop them, like popcorn.

Grain amaranth grows to about 5 feet in height, and sets a large heavy cluster of tiny seeds at the top. It’s quite a pretty setup, but the year I grew golden grain amaranth, this area was hit by false chinch bugs, and those tiny black seed eaters moving around on the head of seeds sparkled like a faceted mirror ball.

I dropped plans for harvesting that and put the seed heads through the mulcher-grinder, killing the destructive insects. The surviving insects moved on in a day or two, but their damage to the seed heads may have been severe.

Amaranth grains and flour derived from grinding the grains are available in our markets, and usable either for popping or in gluten-free recipes.

Forget pole bean versions of snap beans

If you garden to grow your own food and your family likes green snap beans, don’t waste your time growing pole bean versions of snap beans. They’re very late to produce, while bush snap beans such as Slenderette have been providing snap beans since early July. They usually provide heavily, then pause and get a second wind, then produce until frost. My row of Slenderettes is only about six feet long, but we’ve frozen 15 bags and eaten fresh beans a few times over the summer.

Contender used to be my favorite bean, but it didn’t retain good flavor when frozen, and production died out after about two pickings. Taste is subjective, I know, but I do not like varieties such as Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake. My late friend Ross Hadfield, truly an Advanced Master Gardener, enthused to one and all about the virtues of Slenderette, and I found he was right, even to the very good flavor, fresh or frozen.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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