Amaranth- this beautiful jewel in the yard- is considered a weed by most of us here in the United States, yet contains more vitamins, minerals and protein than nearly any other green leafy or garden vegetable. The goal of my writing today is to encourage you to consider adding amaranth to your garden and to your cuisine.
Why do I start my series on the Top 10 Healthiest Garden Vegetables with amaranth? I put amaranth first because the leaves and seeds are edible, providing a well-rounded supply of nearly all vitamins and minerals needed by the body. Most people have heard of eating amaranth grain, but many may not know that the leaves are edible and nutritious as well.
Amaranth, also known as Chinese Spinach or Pigweed, is considered a common weed in most American gardens. It can grow up to an unsightly four feet tall if you let it go to seed for its grain. It is very prolific and spreads anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 seeds from each plant. Amaranth and its relative Lamb's Quarter (which I will discuss at a later date) are both edible, with the leaves being the most nutritious part. There are over 60 species of the amaranth flower, with the Red Amaranth being the most popular for flower gardens. All upper parts are edible; leaves, seeds, and young stems.
Why eat amaranth leaves?
Amaranth, also called Chinese Spinach, is related to spinach, beets, and quinoa. Seeds germinate in late spring, and since the early, young leaves are much tastier than the older leaves, you'll want to harvest sooner rather than later. The leaves taste much like a combination of spinach and green beans. The young stems are edible too, containing soluble and insoluble fiber. Stems can be cooked like asparagus or added to stir fries, soups and smoothies. I usually put the entire plant in my morning smoothie!
The leaves are exceptionally high in Vitamin E, Vitamin B-complex, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, beta carotene, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and many other vital minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and sodium. In addition, amaranth contains a good amount of protein, and more Vitamin C and Vitamin K than any other green vegetable. It is also the richest source of calcium in leafy green plants- nearly twice the amount of its competitor, collards.
What are the health benefits of amaranth leaves?
Amaranth greens alone provide nearly all vitamins and minerals needed by the human body for health. There are many health benefits derived from the green leaves, some of which I outline below.
How to identify Amaranth?
There are many varieties of amaranth, including cultivated ornamental types which are often grown for seed-heads and flowers. Amaranth is easy to identify by its ridged leaves, reddish stems, and shape of leaves. The leaves can vary in size and color in the cultivated forms, from solid green, to red and green, and even in solid colors, such as yellow, purple and red. The photo above is my own photo I took of the wild variety that grew up in a flower pot on my back deck.
There are a few things to consider before increasing your intake of amaranth. Like spinach, amaranth greens contain higher amounts of oxalic acid. This naturally occurring substance found in some vegetables can crystallize to become oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. If you are one of those people who already has high oxalates, you can still enjoy amaranth and all of its benefits. Just avoid eating it every day, and limit your intake to only a couple times a week. I encourage you to check with a functional practitioner to see how you can lower your oxalates naturally to prevent stones.
Another caution to consider when consuming amaranth greens is the high Vitamin K content. If you are on anticoagulants such as "warfarin", you are encouraged to avoid amaranth altogether.
You may eat amaranth greens as you would any other green. It is delicious in salads, stir fries, soups, and even as a fried food. I dehydrate amaranth leaves, store in a jar with a tight lid, and crumble into soups, curries, stir fries and tea. Therefore, I am able to enjoy amaranth all winter. I also freeze the leaves whole to use in smoothies at a later date. It is a delicious way to get more nutrition into you and your children.
If you are trying to get more greens into your children, try my Fried Amaranth Leaves. My children use to pluck the leaves from the garden and present them to me at lunch time. I knew what they wanted for lunch!
Wild vegetables contain more nutrients and health benefits than cultivated vegetables, and should be considered in the garden. I will be discussing more of the top-three wild vegetables later in this series, but there are many more. In fact, most plants growing in the wild, woods or fields are edible and have many medicinal health benefits. Just be sure to identify each wild food before consuming, especially mushrooms. A good rule thumb: If in doubt, don't.
Try it! Be brave! And when you do, let me hear from you. I would love to know what you think.
As an FDN-P, she helps men and women age gracefully and beautifully by getting to the root cause of belly fat, energy loss, hormone and mineral imbalance. She strongly believes that mineral imbalance is the root cause of most chronic symptoms and disease today. Using functional lab testing, food and lifestyle changes, one can overcome most diseases naturally without medication. And she teaches others how to grow their own food to help balance minerals in one's daily food and lifestyle.
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