Amaranth is a hardy annual that has been grown for thousands of years for food. It was known to the Aztec’s as “huahuhtli” and was eaten before the arrival of the Spanish.
Varieties of Amaranth cultivated for grains can be toasted like popcorn and mixed with honey.
The plants are also grown as ornamentals for their beauty and can grow to 8 feet tall with spectacular flowering seed heads that attract insects.
Growth habits and planting needs
It is important to get your seed from a stockist to make sure that the variety you grow will not be one of the weed types that can spread and be hard to control.
Amaranth likes a warm sunny position that gets 6-8 hours of full sun. The soil should be rich and well drained though it can grow in harsher conditions.
Cultivate the soil well and add well rotted compost. Sow the seeds from Spring to early Autumn sowing them to a depth of 3 times their diameter, keeping the soil just moist and not wet.
When 3-4 true leaves appear then thin to the healthiest plants and space to about 50 cm apart.
Mature plants can reach to 2.4 m so make sure that the site is protected from high winds.
Once established the plants will thrive if kept watered well and can even tolerate some drought conditions.
The plants will take 7-8 weeks to reach maturity. At this point it is important that the seed heads be picked before they mature to stop the seeds self-seeding and spreading throughout the garden.
When you notice the seeds turning black and falling from the seed head, cover the seed heads in paper or other breathable bags and then cut them down. Hang them upside down in their bags in a protected place to dry out completely.
Amaranth in legend and poetry
The word Amaranth comes from Greek and means ‘unwilting’.
Amaranth symbolizes immortality in ancient lore and has been the subject of many poems for its hardiness and beauty.
I love this verse by the poet John Keats.
The spirit culls
Unfaded amaranth, when wild it strays
Through the old garden-ground of boyish days. – from Endymion (1818)
Further interesting information:
Information on the history, taxonomy and human uses and legend of Amaranth can be found on Wikipedia here.