Amaranth Caudatus, Love-lies-bleeding
Species of the Amaranth family are mostly located in tropical or subtropical climates (Walters 2006). Various Amaranth species are found in South America, the southwestern United States, and everywhere in between (Beckman, 2007).
The Amaranth genus includes about 70 species. The inflorescence consists of solitary flowers or cymose clusters, often aggregated into spikelike or headlike clusters (Walters 2006). Flowers range in color from dark purple to red to yellow. The leaves of the plant are simple with alternate or opposite arrangement. Though Amaranth seeds are very tiny, each plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds (Beckman, 2007). Amaranth is an annual.
Amaranth species were grown by the Aztecs 5,000 to 6,000 years ago (Martirosyan et al. 2007). In fact, documentation shows that over 20,000 tons of Amaranth grain was sent annually to the Aztec emperor Montezuma as a tribute to his power (Beckman, 2007). Spanish conquistadors banned the grain from Aztec usage due to its important role in their religious ceremonies (Tucker 1986). Amaranth was also used in pagan rituals; the grains were mixed with honey or blood, made into animal shapes, and eaten during religious ceremonies (Beckman, 2007). Amaranth was slowly forgotten; it continued to be grown only in scattered pockets of land around mountainous areas that were not deeply influenced by the Spanish. Today, the grain is being brought back into the mainstream as a cheap and nutritious food source (Beckman 2007, Tucker 1986).
Current medicinal uses
Amaranth is a valuable dietary cereal that is most advantageous to one’s cardiovascular health. Amaranth grain contains 6-9% oil (which is a higher percent than most other cereals). The oil contains 77% unsaturated fatty acids including palmitic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid, an essential component of central nervous system cell membranes (Martirosyan et al. 2007). Furthermore, Amaranth contains squalene, a (good) cholesterol precursor. Human studies have shown the cholesterol-lowering effects of Amaranth grain and oil as well as its positive effects on cardiovascular disease patients (Danik, 2007). Martirosyan et al. 2007 suggests that Amaranth has antioxidant properties as seen through reductions in lipid peroxide oxidation in subjects.
Current Culinary Uses
Amaranth seeds are currently used in cereals, snacks, and desserts around the world. The seeds are nutritionally valuable since they contain an excellent balance of amino acids, which the body cannot manufacture such as lysine (Tucker 1986). Cooked seeds pop into a pseudo-popcorn with a mild nutty taste (Tucker 1986). In the Himalayas, Amaranth grain is an important seed used in flat bread. The seed can also be cooked into gruel or made into a flour for baking desserts (Beckman 2007).
Although Amaranth grains are most widely utilized, the leaves of some species are widely eaten in salads as well as used as cooked greens. The mild flavor of the leaf and its ability to be grown in hot climates make it popular in warm regions of India, China, the South Pacific Islands, and Africa (Beckman, 2007). Amaranth leaves are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, riboflavin, and folic acid (Tucker 1986).
No adverse effects have been documented on the use of Amaranth.
Amaranth is currently being studied for its antioxidant, cardiovascular, and immune system effects. The nutritional properties of Amaranth may be a potentially valuable food source for developing countries in need of cheap and nutritious food (Tucker, 1986).
Beckman, Curt. Amaranth: Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop. BOSTID, 1984. www.appropedia.org/Original: Amaranth: _Modern_Prospects_for_an_Ancient_Crop
Martirosyan, Danik M.; Miroshnichenko, Lidia A.; Kulakova, Svetlana N.; Pogojeva, Ala V.;, Zoloedov, Vladimir I.. “Amaranth oil application for coronary heart disease and hypertension.” Lipids in Health and Disease. 6(1): 2007.
Tucker, Jonathan. “Amaranth: The Once and Future Crop.” American Institute of Biological Sciences. University of California Press: 1986, pg. 9.
Walters, Dirk R., Keil, David J., Murrell, Zack E. Vascular Plant Taxonomy, 5th ed. Dubuque: Kendall/Hut Publishing Co., 2006.