Thursday, April 9, 2009


So far, most disappointingly, my amaranth crop has been a near-total failure. Out of the thousands of tiny seeds deposited in 3 rows, I have seen a grand total of 3 seedlings, only one of which surives. But boy, if I can only get one of them to thrive, they do produce seeds in abundance! I may have to order another seed packet, 'cause I do love the sight of those tall purple amaranth stalks!

I was really hoping to produce a big heap of chicken feed out of all those seeds. The nutritious leaves would be perfect for chickens and rabbits too. Here is some info on why the amaranth grain could be so useful, although not part of our traditional American gardening culture.

Amaranthus grain contains a high level of protein, between 16%-18%, much more than the cereals of the Poaceae family (grass family: wheat, barley, oats, rice, corn, etc). On the other hand the protein found in Amaranthus is one of the most balanced known and this fact alone is sufficient to consider the Amaranthus as one of the most promising plants for the nutrition of mankind.

If the ideal protein (according to the values of the FAO) is placed at 100, it is very interesting to compare the values of the most widely used proteins. The protein in Amaranthus (as well as in Quinoa) reaches a value of 75, corn reaches a value of 44, wheat a value of 60, Soya a value of 68 and cows milk a value of 72.

The protein of cereals used in the West is very poor in lysine, one of the amino acids essential for good health. Amaranthus contains twice as much lysine as wheat and 3 times as much as corn. The National Academy of Science in the USA has established that a mixture of corn flour and Amaranthus flour would give the ideal protein level of 100.

The nutritional value of Amaranthus grain is one of the essential qualities of indexing, of the evaluation and improvement of thousands of plants used by all the peoples of the planet. Thus at the NBPGR in Shimla, in India, researchers have discovered varieties of Amaranthus containing as much as 22% protein and as much as 7% lysine in the protein, although the average was 5.5%. Once again it should be stressed that this level of lysine in Amaranthus grain is essential to the diet of the Third World whose basic foodstuff is nearly always cereal.

As well as its protein, Amaranthus grain contains a lot of calcium, phosphorous, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin B.
It is this nutritional wealth which places the value of Amaranthus leaves above all other leaf vegetables. The leaves of Amaranthus are in fact an excellent source of carotene, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and other trace elements. By way of comparison there are for example in the leaves of grain Amaranthus, 3 times more vitamin C, 10 times more carotene, 15 times more iron and 40 times more calcium than in tomatoes. The leaves of Amaranthus contain 3 times more vitamin C, 3 times more calcium and 3 times more niacin than spinach leaves.

Let us take for example Amaranthus palmeri, widely eaten by the Yaqui, Papago and Pima peoples of the Sonora desert in America. It contains 3 times more calories, 18 times more vitamin A, 13 times more vitamin C, 20 times more calcium and 7 times more iron than lettuce!

Amaranthus, whether grain or leaf, constitutes a veritable solar factory. It is one of the privileged plants of the planet, which use a system of photosynthesis called C4. This means of photosynthesis is particularly efficient in conditions of drought, extreme heat and great solar intensity. It allows these plants to convert twice the amount of solar energy into ‘growth’ than plants, which use the system called C3, and with the same amount of water. The productivity of Amaranthus varies considerably according to the variety, climate, richness of the soil, etc.

It can yield between 500kg and 5 tonnes a hectare. The varieties introduced into USA by the Rodale institute and other centres, such as Plainsman and K432, are said to produce on average 2 tonnes per hectare. Yields up to 6 tonnes a hectare have been achieved on certain experimental plots.

The seeds of the Amaranthus plant are incredibly tiny and so a gramme will contain 1,000 seeds and possibly as many as 3,000 seeds. It is not unusual to have magnificent panicles of more than 100,000 seeds. It has even been reported that 1 plant contained as many as 450,000 seeds. This is hardly surprising when you see a self-sown plant, unimpeded by other plants, reaching 3m in height with a width of 1m and with stems 5cm across at the nose.


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