There are around 60 species of amaranthus, including weeds, leaf vegetables, grain crops and ornamentals. Many have large, colourful leaves and tassel-like flower spikes. Jackie French thinks amaranthus is the most spectacularly beautiful and useful plant that you’ll ever find in the vegetable garden.
Amaranthus tricolor (syn A. gangeticus, A. oleraceus)
Also known as leaf amaranth, edible amaranth or Chinese spinach. The young leaves have a sweet, tangy flavour, and cooked leaves can be added to salads, soups and stir-frys. (Note: fresh leaves should not be eaten very often, as they are high in nitrates and oxalic acid.) Young shoots are peeled, steamed and then eaten. Ornamental varieties, such as ‘Joseph’s Coat’ and ‘Flaming Fountain’, are grown as bedding plants.
This plant is commonly known as ‘love-lies-bleeding’ because it has dark red, hanging flower tassels up to 60cm (2′) long. However, in some varieties the tassels are shorter and more erect. A. caudatus or grain amaranth comes from the Andes, and was a favourite food crop for the Mayans and Aztecs. The seeds can be harvested and ground into a flour. They’re also great budgie food. Save some seeds to plant again for more plants next year.
Tropical conditions are ideal for amaranthus but many varieties are frost hardy, so it is worth giving them a go in most regions of Australia.
Amaranthus are mostly annuals, grown from seed or seedlings planted in late winter or spring (after frosts have passed). As they are tall, soft plants they need protection from strong winds. Prepare the soil before planting, digging in well-rotted manure or a complete fertiliser. Water young plants regularly and mulch well. Liquid feed monthly to keep the plant growing strongly. Tip pruning young plants promotes bushy growth. Watch for and treat aphids, caterpillars and snails, which damage leaves.
Amaranths with edible foliage are also sold under the name Amaranthus mangostanus.
A range of amaranthus is available from seed suppliers, including:
Royston Petrie Seeds Pty Ltd
PO Box 77, Kenthurst, NSW 2156
Phone: (02) 9654 1186
Fax: (02) 9654 2658
Lower Beechmont Qld 4211
Phone: (07) 5533 1107
Fax: (07) 5533 1108
Freecall Orders: 1800 188 199
Website: www.edenseeds.com.au (internet ordering available)
Amaranth Breakfast Cereal is available from Coles Supermarkets nationwide, Safeway Supermarkets in some states, and some health food stores. It costs around $2.95 for a 100g pack.
Information about the commercial production of amaranth in Australia, and amaranth products currently available, can be obtained from:
15 Catalina Drive
Tullamarine Vic 3043
Phone: (03) 9338 3911
Fax: (03) 9330 3748