Buds N Bugs: Amaranth the forgotten ‘grain’



Lois Swoboda
Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 10:54 AM.

A pigweed or Amaranthus sp, is a common plant in our area.

Amaranth is the common name for more than 60 different species of Amaranthus, usually very tall plants with broad green leaves and impressively bright purple, red, or gold flowers. 

The name for amaranth comes from the Greek amarantos, “one that does not wither," or “the never-fading.” True to form, amaranth’s bushy flowers retain their vibrancy even after harvesting and drying.

Amaranth has been cultivated as a staple food for 8,000 years. Although not a true grain, since it is not a grass, the yield of amaranth is comparable to rice or maize. It was a staple food of the Aztecs, and was used as an integral part of their religious ceremonies. The grain was popped, mixed with human blood and honey and formed into statues that were later consumed by worshipers. In Mexico , popped amaranth is still mixed with honey for festivals including the Day of the Dead. The result is a candy called alegría (Spanish for happiness).

Because of its religious significance, the cultivation of amaranth was banned by the conquistadores upon their conquest of the Aztec nation. Amaranth crops were seized, fields burned, and those who tried to grow the plant were punished. As a food source, it was replaced by corn.

Amaranth was also an important source of food to many North American natives.

Research on grain amaranth began in the  US  in the 1970s. By the end of the 1970s, a few thousand acres were being cultivated. The virtue of amaranth is that it grows in harsh conditions such as in light soils, much like the grain sorghum.

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