The amaranth plant is one of the lesser-known edible flowering plants in the United States, even though it’s been consumed for more than 8,000 years.
The amaranth plant produces showy flowers and edible greens in conditions that wilt most plants. It loves heat, and it’s not fussy about soil. Amaranth can make a beautiful addition to your yard, where it produces bright flowers throughout the summer.
This article will explore the various reasons why you should be planting amaranth flowers in your garden. We will show you the best varieties for harvesting delicious and nutritious grains, edible greens, and the fascinating flowers you’ve ever seen.
You will learn how to plant amaranth seeds and grow an amaranth garden to be proud of.
What is Amaranth?
Amaranth is an annual plant native to South and Central America. You’ll find amaranth growing in Asia, Africa, and Europe, both wild and on farms.
In some regions, amaranth can grow as a perennial, and due to its ability to self-seed rapidly, amaranth can take over areas in a few generations. It’s grown for its edible greens and seeds, as well as decoratively for the unique and exciting blossoms.
The Amaranth plant produces grain-like seeds that can be eaten as cereal or ground into flour for baked goods. Many cultures eat amaranth leaves raw or cooked, and they provide a nutritious boost to the diet. Researchers believe amaranth grains may help provide a reliable and healthy food source to people living in areas where growing crops is difficult.
Despite a long history and proven health benefits, many US gardeners view it as a noxious weed. It frequently grows along roadsides and dunes, but it’s gaining popularity as a superfood that’s easy to grow and care for. The long-lasting and beautiful flowers are a bonus that brings bright pops of color to gardens.
What Does Amaranth Look Like?
Some species can grow over eight feet tall, while others may top out at one to two feet.
Some varieties of amaranth grow as perennials, while most types are annuals.
Flowers are either upright or drooping and come in a dazzling array of colors. Amaranth leaves are often long—up to ten inches and four inches wide in red and green shades.
Amaranth plants tend to grow tall rather than bushy, with long stems supporting big, bushy flowers. You can grow most amaranth close to other kinds of amaranth because the plant doesn’t mind being a little crowded.
Is Amaranth a Weed?
Amaranth grows wild in much of the south and the southwestern United States, and many Americans call amaranth “pigweed.” You frequently see it growing in vacant lots, fallow fields, and abandoned properties. Many American farmers consider amaranth to be an invasive weed and kill it in their fields.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines weeds as any plant that grows unwanted and invasively, is difficult to control, and displaces desirable plants. Amaranth does grow rapidly and uncontrollably and is undoubtedly difficult to stop once it starts.
Most specifically, Palmer Amaranth, some species have earned a reputation for being one of the most “problematic” of common weeds because of its ability to out-compete other plants and rapidly reproduce.
Red Amaranth is Herbicide-Resistant
In areas that consider amaranth a weed, another troubling fact has arisen- amaranth is not only resistant to glyphosate-based weed killers, but it can also actually thrive in fields treated with Round-Up. Red amaranth is often pointed to as an example of “superweeds” that develop resistance much like some organisms have developed resistance to antibiotics.
Amaranth is particularly damaging to broadleaf crops like soybeans and cotton, where it out-competes for nutrients and water.
One of the most intriguing things about amaranth plants is the beautiful flowers that bloom all summer long.
They come in shades from crimson to bright red, and some varieties even have green flowers. A total of 75 recognized varieties of amaranth are known to exist, and each has unique flowers. At least 10 types are native to North America.
You might like the type that has flowers growing straight up, or you might prefer the delicate, drooping effect some amaranth plants have, and growing the two varieties together is a sure way to make your garden beautiful. Amaranth flowers make lovely dried flower arrangements because the flowers don’t lose color.
Where to Buy Amaranth Seeds
Amaranth is uncommon in nurseries and garden centers, primarily due to its reputation as a weed. Gardeners hoping to grow these attractive and edible plants should buy seeds online from a reputable seller. When you select a variety, you should also look at the characteristics of the plant.
Gardeners grow amaranth for the exciting flowers, nutritious grain, and edible leaves. Many types are hybrids that will not produce reliable seeds.
How to Grow Amaranth
Growing amaranth at home is easy. The home gardener can follow some simple suggestions to ensure an excellent amaranth crop.
The plant likes warm to hot weather and grows well in USDA hardiness zones six through eleven. Colder regions can grow amaranth plants as annuals. Gardeners should plan on planting amaranth in a place where it gets at least six hours of sunlight.
When to Plant Amaranth
Amaranth seeds can be direct-sown in your garden after the last chance of frost. Amaranth prefers warm temperatures, so wait to plant until the earth is easy to work. Amaranth seeds start well indoors, and gardeners can get a jump by germinating amaranth seeds four to six weeks before planting. Germinate seeds at 70 degrees for the most success.
Gardeners can use rockwool cubes to start amaranth seeds indoors. Rockwool is a great starting medium because it encourages healthy root growth, and you can put it in the ground along with the plant. Put three to six seeds in each cube for the best results. Seeds typically germinate within one week and are ready to plant in the ground after four to six weeks.
How to Plant Amaranth
Some amaranth plants can grow to eight feet tall, but most types are between four and six feet. You can plant amaranth reasonably close together because they do not grow in a bushy shape. The flowers of mature plants look best when grown 10″ to 18″ apart. You can stagger planting by a week to ten days to prolong your growing season if you plan on harvesting amaranth leaves or seeds.
Amaranth will tolerate virtually any soil type and grows well in all but hard, compacted clay. The plants will benefit from plenty of nitrogen and potassium in the soil, so mixing a good-quality compost into the soil before planting will ensure healthy amaranth plants. Amaranth consumes lots of nutrients during its growing cycle, and the plant makes an excellent addition to compost for the next season.
Where Not to Plant Amaranth
You should not plant amaranth in soil that previously grew brassica plants like spinach, bok choy, or mustard due to an increased risk of bacterial and fungal infections. Many sources also claim amaranth shouldn’t be grown with crocus, but no reason is provided. If you don’t harvest the flowers before the seeds form, amaranth can spread widely. Gardeners should have a plan for controlling amaranth if it is going to seed.
What to Grow With Amaranth
Amaranth is a great companion plant with other crops because its tall growth and foliage provide shade to other plants. The plant also grows a long taproot, which loosens the soil and aids other plants in growing. Amaranth can make an excellent companion plant with a vast number of other plants. Most plants that grow well in similar conditions will thrive alongside amaranth.
Once amaranth plants are well-started, any of the plants in the legume family make an excellent companion. While amaranth draws nitrogen from the soil, plants like beans and peas put nitrogen back into the soil. Amaranth also makes an ideal natural trellis for vining legume varieties.
Amaranth also enjoys growing with plants in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. The broad leaves of the amaranth help shade the companion plants, and low-growing peppers and potatoes help hold moisture in the soil’s surface. Small, climbing tomatoes will readily use amaranth as a trellis.
Many people plant marigolds around amaranth as sacrificial plants that attract and repel certain pests and prevent nematode problems. Marigolds repel rabbits, which will happily devour young amaranth shoots and companion plants in your garden.
How to Water Amaranth
Amaranth does well in arid conditions and isn’t a huge water consumer. Gardeners should keep the soil lightly moist but not wet. Allowing the soil to dry slightly won’t harm amaranth. A drip irrigation system is most often appropriate for amaranth, mainly when grown in companionship with nightshade plants.
Too much water will leave your amaranth plants susceptible to root rot that bacterial and fungal infections cause, so avoiding overwatering is critical. If your amaranth plant has droopy leaves, you are likely overwatering. You must remove plants with root rot because they will not survive and can continue to contaminate your soil.
It’s best to water amaranth deeply rather than lightly and often. Amaranth will grow a long taproot, so shallow watering can lead to stunted plants. Growing amaranth with ground cover plants is a great way to prevent rapid evaporation in hot climates.
Pests and Diseases that Affect Amaranth
Amaranth isn’t particularly susceptible to any specific pests or diseases, but there are several things gardeners should watch out for. Flea larvae beetles will infest amaranth, as will aphids. Many of the same pests that attack brassica plants attack amaranth also. Many bird species will feed on your amaranth.
You can use 70% neem oil or a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth to prevent the most common bugs from eating your amaranth and other plants. Screen netting can help keep birds from eating your ancient grains before you do.
Amaranth is resistant to many diseases. Root rot is a common problem because of overwatering and is particularly likely when growing amaranth in garden soil that previously grew brassica. Do not compost plants that you pull that are suffering from root rot because the organisms will thrive in your compost bin and spread throughout your garden.
How to Harvest Amaranth
The three most common reasons people grow amaranth plants are for the greens, grains, and flowers. Each one has a specific time frame and method to harvest an amaranth plant’s desirable parts successfully.
Harvesting Amaranth Leaves
You can begin harvesting amaranth leaves in about 30 to 45 days after planting seedlings in your garden. Gardeners can take leaves from the bottom first with a pair of sharp, sterile scissors or shears. You can take up to one-third of the leaves without harming the plant. Frequent harvesting of leaves will encourage new growth, so you should harvest regularly.
If the leaves are the only goal for your amaranth garden, you should remove the entire plant before seeds form. Harvesting the whole plant early will keep the leaves tender and delicious. Small, tender leaves are best in salads and eaten raw, while you’ll use older leaves in cooked dishes.
Harvesting Amaranth Flowers
Some of the most popular types of amaranth are explicitly grown for the showy, beautiful flowers the plant produces. The flowers are often known as the unfading flower because the blossoms do not lose their color, even when picked and dried. The name amaranth is derived from ancient Greek, literally meaning unfading flower.
Flowers are ready to harvest between two and three months, and you should pick them before seeds start to form. You can dry upright flowers in a vase placed in a warm, dark environment or hung from string upside down. Dry curved varieties, so a cardboard stand or something similar supports the curve.
Dried amaranth flowers make an excellent addition to both fresh and dried bouquets. The flowers are known for their ability to hold color much longer than other varieties. Globe amaranth types are often dried and used in potpourri. Amaranth flowers are also pressed and used in art, scrapbooking, and other decorative projects.
Harvesting Amaranth for Grains
Amaranth is not a true grain, even though it is often called an “Ancient Grain.” Instead, this pseudo-grain is a tiny seed that provides a huge amount of nutritional benefits when harvested. One of the most common reasons people in the US grow amaranth is to harvest the amaranth grains. Harvesting amaranth is easy once you know a few tricks.
Most varieties of amaranth will begin to have ripening seeds in about three months from sprouting. You want to harvest the amaranth seeds once the blossoms have almost dried and the seeds are just beginning to shake free. Harvesting is simple; clip the flower and seed pods from the plant into a bag. You should remove as much of the large material from the bag as you can, then gently roll the seed pods to crush up the part of the flower holding the seeds.
There are two easy ways to remove the chaff’s seeds—what you call the leftover bits. One method is to place the seeds in a shallow bowl of water. The lighter weight chaff will rise to the surface, and you can easily scoop it off and discard it. The other method is to place the seeds in a dry shallow bowl and gently stir while allowing a gentle breeze to carry off the chaff.
Storing Amaranth Seeds
Once the seeds are dry and free of chaff, you can place them in a glass or plastic jar in a dark, cool place. The seeds will keep for at least a year. In warmer climates, some types of amaranth will grow as a short-lived perennial, but in most climates, you’ll want to replant next season after the winter frost has passed.
How to Eat Amaranth
Amaranth leaves are reminiscent of spinach, and you eat it in the same way. Younger leaves will be more tender and have a delicate flavor, while older leaves will be more rigid and bitter, particularly once the plant has begun to flower. All varieties of amaranth, including ones growing wild, are edible, but some types taste better.
Cook the red amaranth seeds like cereal or porridge. The flavor is nutty and a little like quinoa. The most popular way to make amaranth seeds is popped. A popular treat is popped amaranth seeds and raw cane sugar that you eat like a granola bar. Popping the amaranth seeds brings out the sweeter, nuttier flavor that gets a little lost when you boil the seeds.
Amaranth seeds, particularly red amaranth seeds, are great for grinding into flour. It’s an essential component of gluten-free baking and works well when combined with almond flour. Bakers make unleavened bread with amaranth flour because it is gluten-free and doesn’t rise.
Nutritional Benefits of Amaranth
Amaranth is called an ancient grain and has been a staple in South and Central America for thousands of years. Amaranth was harvested for its incredible nutritional benefit. One of the primary reasons American gardeners are choosing to cultivate amaranth today is to harness the ancient grain’s power.
Amaranth grain is high in protein. One 246 gram cup of cooked amaranth seeds contains 9.3 grams of protein. That same one-cup serving also provides an entire day’s worth of manganese, a nutrient believed to play a role in brain function. Amaranth is high in magnesium, iron, and phosphorus, which are essential elements for your health. Amaranth grains are a low-fat food, too.
Leaves and stems add essential amino acids and antioxidants to the mineral and nutrient content of amaranth. The leaves provide good fiber, and numerous scientific journals over the last fifty years cite amaranth for its ability to alleviate malnutrition and dietary deficiencies in developing countries and areas that lack food resources.
Medicinal Benefits of Amaranth
Certain compounds found in amaranth may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Amaranth is high in Squalene, usually made from shark oil, and research shows it can reduce cancer. Shark oil is the most common source, and it contains about 1%, while amaranth oil, derived from the seeds, contains as much as 8% squalene.
Research shows that nutrients in amaranth may reduce bad cholesterol while improving good cholesterol. For people who have Celiac disease or allergies to gluten products, amaranth is a vital grain. Amaranth is not a true grain like wheat, barley, or rye, and so it does not contain gluten protein compounds. The amaranth grain is often ground into a flour that makes surprisingly delicious baked goods while offering better protein, nutrients, and vitamins than wheat bread.
In many South American cultures, they traditionally use amaranth to treat ulcers, stomach pain, diarrhea, and swelling of the mouth and throat. Science has not backed up these uses, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
Commercial Uses of Amaranth
Some cultures use amaranth flowers to make red dye. The red dye is commonly used in the coloring of food but is banned in the US for fear of potential carcinogenic effects. Some species of the amaranth plant are particularly well-known for producing vibrant dye.
There is an increasing interest among the scientific community looking for unique and sustainable products to consider amaranth. Despite remaining uncommon in the US, it grows extensively in South America and India, and other parts of Asia. The potential for amaranth to serve as a valuable food crop, medicinal plant, and commercial solution to sustainability problems.
Best Varieties of Amaranth for Growing at Home
There are several varieties of home gardeners, particularly prize. These types have either showy flowers or are ideal for producing grains or leafy greens. You should always check when you buy seeds to find out the best amaranth for your garden.
- Opopeo Amaranth: This is a variety gardeners grow for its gorgeous, purple drooping flowers and tinted leaves. This is one of the most popular varieties of dried flowers.
- Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth: This variety is a beautiful ornamental plant and the essential variety for South America and India’s food production. Its cascading red blossoms stood for “hopeless love” in the Victorian language of flowers.
- Prince-of-Wales Feather Amaranth: This variety is an important food source in Africa but grows elsewhere primarily for its dramatic, upright, dark purple flower that resembles feathers in a cap. It has bright green leaves that set off the majestic color of the blossom.
- Red Leaf Amaranth: Gardeners grow this one for its delicious, red foliage. If you’re looking for a tasty way to add to your garden, then you’ll enjoy growing this variety.
- Green Amaranth: Also has the less-flattering name of Smooth Pigweed, this is one of the varieties you’ll often see growing wild in the US. It’s also the original, edible amaranth. The green amaranth isn’t as attractive as many other varieties, but it’s a big-time seed producer.
- Hopi Red Dye Amaranth: Traditionally used by Hopi Indians as a food dye, this variety is desirable for its black seeds that produce a delicious cereal-like flavor. It has the brightest red flowers of all the amaranth species.
- Amaranth is an ancient grain that farmers treat like a weed in the US.
- The amaranth plant includes 75 varieties, many of which are well-suited as an edible plant.
- Many varieties of amaranth make an excellent addition to edible landscapes.
- Growing amaranth is quite simple, as the plant does not have strict requirements or common pests. It grows with numerous other types of plants to create a symbiotic garden.
- Amaranth prefers warm to hot weather and grows best from after the last frost to the first frost in most parts of the United States.
- Gardeners can harvest leaves in 30 days, flowers in 90 days, and seeds in about 120 days from planting.
- The nutritional benefits of amaranth are tremendous, including high protein, vitamins, and minerals essential for survival.
Amaranth has both traditional and modern applications for medicinal qualities, and there is ongoing research investigating amaranth and cancer treatment.
Selecting the best variety of amaranth plants is simple once you know what you want to do with it.
Amaranth isn’t on everyone’s list as the next most important plant to grow. For those willing to try, amaranth is a low-maintenance plant that’s not fussy about care. The bright, cascading flowers make impressive cut decorations and hold color even when they are dry.
Amaranth is one of those plants that’s fun to have just because, even if you don’t eat the leaves, harvest the seeds, and grind flour. Watching the delicate feathery blossoms gently sway in a hot, August breeze makes growing amaranth totally worth it.