Love-lies-bleeding, pendant amaranth,tassel flower, velvet flower, foxtail amaranth, and quilete
A much-loved, ancient food, the amaranth has literally become a worldwide weed, and it is a most important medicinal plant too.
Now in the midsummer heat you’ll notice tough little seedlings of one or two of the many amaranth varieties coming up in your garden; often they are quickly gathered up and cooked by ‘those in the know’, who make that energy-boosting ‘moroggo’ dish that is a traditional South African delicacy.
Along the roadsides you’ll be seeing tall, reddish-leafed varieties with their typical blood red multi-seeded flowering spikes. All over the world, for centuries, these leaves and seeds have been gathered; the leaves for spinach and the seeds for bread and porridge.
Once you have amaranth in the garden you will have it forever, as it seeds itself abundantly, and it is the little tender plants that are the most delicious cooked as a spinach or chopped into stir-fries.
Plant your amaranth in full sun, in well-dug, well-composted soil, spacing the little seedlings 50cm apart and watering well. Alternatively, sow seeds lavishly and pull up and cook the seedlings while they are young and tender, leaving only a few plants to mature. You’ll be fascinated with the maturing plant. Grow a row of the old fashioned ‘Love lies bleeding’ amaranth with its pendulous, floppy flowering ‘garlands’, or the ‘Red Giant’, which can grow up to two metres high, and watch them develop colour and weight. When the heads of seeds are ripe and drying, collect the seeds by shaking them out over newspaper and use them in bread and cake baking. The seeds taste nutty and rich and are filled with easily digested protein.
Interestingly modern day research finds amaranth valuable for treating anaemia, chronic fatigue, chronic and intermittent diarrhoea, as a gargle for mouth ulcers, circulatory disorders, heavy menstrual bleeding, excessive vaginal discharge and dysentery, and even for coughs.
Make a tea by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over ¼ cup fresh amaranth leaves and flowers. Stand 5 minutes, strain and take 2 or even 3 times a day for the above ailments, or use the cooled tea as a lotion for itchy burning skin, or as a wash for wounds (as was done thousands of years ago) and for spotty oily skin. To add to its value, on the compost heap amaranth is superb: it gets the heap steaming in no time at all.