Growing, harvesting & eating Amaranth in the home garden
Learn more about Amaranth
Amaranth is considered an ancient grain that is a true survival crop. The plant is highly nutritious and provides multiple flushes of edible growth in the form of wonderful and diverse seeds, very nutritious leaves (Margo) as well as crunchy stems. This allows the Amaranth plant to provide and edible crop throughout the growing season, which removes the need to wait for a full growing season to be able to get a harvest.
In the video I have made I share with you everything that you need to know about Amaranth, how it grows, why it is such a nutritious plant, how to harvest it and clean the amaranth seed as well as how you can cook it up and enjoy it in a range of ways.
How to grow Amaranth
Amaranth is one of the easier crops to grow in the home vegetable garden. It is a drought-tolerant plant, which makes growing it in climates in the Southern Hemisphere, especially climates like South Africa and Australia, a breeze.
Being and annual, Amaranth needs to be planted out every year as it explodes with an abundance of growth in Spring and produces gorgeous flowers in Summer that go to seed and then dies back in winter. To make sure you never need to physically plant out an Amaranth plant again, as soon as the plant has gone to seed, shake it up and let the tiny seeds spread into the garden. This will allow your next generation of Amaranth to appear naturally once the climate is right.
This plant requires full sun and a nice long, hot summer season to maximise its flower and seed productivity. You can grow Amaranth in semi-shade if you want to use it for the leaves only, but there are better plant options, like spinach or chard, in that instance. It is also a summer crop, meaning seeds need to be sown in early spring to mature, develop and product during the summer months.
Germinating Amaranth seed
Due to the size of the the seed, germinating Amaranth can be a bit tricky. They are surface germinators, meaning that the needs need to on, or very near, the surface of the soil to be able to germinate. When sowing these seeds, make sure you sow them in little clusters throughout the garden. You do not want individual plants scattered around, but rather, beautiful clusters.
If they are covered with too much soil once sown, they will not get the light exposure they need to sprout and start their journey. You also need to be very mindful of watering if you are direct sowing as the seeds are so small and sown so shallow that they can easily be disturbed or washed away. If you are struggling to grow them buy springkling the seed in the garden (like I often do), then sow them in module trays and make sure you bottom water your seed trays. Once the Amaranth has 4 mature leaves that appear you can replant them out in their permanent position.
How to harvest Amaranth
When looking at ways to harvest Amaranth, it is important to break it down into the part of the plant you are harvesting. As the entire plant is edible, although I have only eaten the stems, leaves and seeds, it important to know how and when each part can be harvested.
THE SEED. This is the prized result everyone is waiting for. The seeds are highly nutritious and are produced in abundance. The seed can be harvested from the plant once the flowers have reached maturing. You will know when the flower is mature based on how big and plump the flower is as well as the indication that some of the flowers may start to die back. Towards mid- to end-Summer you can start to gently rub the flowers with you hand underneath. If seeds start to fall from the flower then they are ready to be harvested. To harvest the actual seed, cut off the flower head and allow it to dry out completely for a couple of days. This can be done by adding a few flower heads into a brown paper bag, or simply adding flower heads to a baking tray and leaving them in the sun. If you are using a brown paper bag then you can aggressively shake up the bag and flower heads to release as much seed as possible. If you are using baking trays, grab a few containers and a colander or strainer. Add the flower heads to the colander and rub your hands together with the flower heads in-between to break up all the flowers and maximise the amount of seeds that are extracted from the flowers. Then shake the colander around to get the seeds to fall through the little holes. Then, you need to remove any excess husks or flowers, so gently shake the seeds around whilst blowing into the container and you will see them all blow away. You can then also pour the seeds from container to another in a light breeze to remove the rest of the debris.
THE LEAVES. The leaves are a great spinach and chard replacement and provide a healthy amount of nutrition. To harvest the leaves, simply break off a few from each plant throughout the growing season and cook them up. Be mindful to carefully wash them as bugs tend to really love Amaranth leaves. When harvesting leaves be sure to only take a few from each plant stem to not remove too much energy from the plant, which may impact flower and seed production. If you have enough clusters planted throughout the garden then a continuous supply should not be a concern.
THE STEMS. Ideally, the stems will only be harvest at the end of the growing season once all the Amaranth seed has been harvested. When you cut off the flower heads you still have a full plant so at this point you can keep it and let it die back naturally, or you can cut at soil level, leaving the roots in the soil, and then using the stems as a yummy, crunchy addition to meals.
How to cook and eat Amaranth
Amaranth can be consumed in a range of ways, from eating the seeds raw to having steamed stems.
Starting with the leaves, which can be harvested throughout the growing season they can be cooked much like spinach and chart dishes. In South Africa, and some other countries, it is also called Marog and is incredibly diverse in use once cooked.
The stems are best boiled or, to maintain as much nutrition as possible, steamed. This provides a nice crunchy addition to a meal, similar to asparagus, that allows you to consume the entire plant.
The seeds are probably the most well-known part of the plant that is consumed. Amaranth seeds can be eaten raw by adding them to smoothies and other health snacks. They can be cooked into a highly nutritious sweet or savoury porridge as well as puffed to add into health bars and many other baking dishes.
The use of Amaranth in the kitchen is wide and provides you with a multi-pronged approach to eating clean and healthy.