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amaranthus cruentas

Getting in the Pink

By Beet 2023 02 February

Whether crimson, fuchsia, garnet, ruby, scarlet, or vermillion, the seed heads of amaranth species such as Amaranthus cruentas, A. caudatus and A. hypochondriacus will truly put your garden plot in the “pink”! Amaranthus blitum, A. spinosous and A. tricolor have brilliant edible stalks and leaves.

Amaranth wasn’t recognized until the American health movement in the 1970s, according to the Oldways Whole Grain Council, but it’s been grown here for a long time. Today’s seed catalogs promote numerous varieties to sow in home gardens.     

A brief history:  Evidence points to A. cruentas as the first cultivated amaranth, with remains found in northern Argentina dating back 8,000 to 7,000 years ago. Pale forms dating to around 4000 BC have also been discovered at Tehuacan Puebla in Mexico.

Despite difficulties in accurately tracking the beginning of amaranth’s cultivation, records document amaranth in regions of central and southwestern parts of North America. It’s been found in Ozark rock shelters from 1100 AD. Documents show indigenous tribes along the Colorado River in present day Arizona and Utah traded it to colonial explorers.

The most significant records show that for the 15th-16th century Aztec empire amaranth was one of three major staple and ceremonial crops. It also appeared in ancient Southeast Asia and China.

So why grow this ancient plant? Amaranth offers leafy greens and “super” seed.  Although not a true cereal, it’s one of six “pseudocereals” – technically seed, but used like cereal grains.

Despite their miniscule size, amaranth seeds are protein powerhouses. Its complete protein is double that of rice or corn, containing more than 10% of the RDA of protein, fiber, iron, selenium and B pyridoxine; 20% of magnesium and phosphorus; and half the RDA of manganese. It’s also gluten free!

Impressive seed-producing varieties can reach 9’ or more. Panicles of grains add the crowning touch with vertical, pendulous, and draping heads in a variety of vibrant magenta shades, neon green and brilliant gold.

Not interested in grain? Smaller varieties from 2’ to 5’ sport nutritious leaves and stalks in brilliant colors and striking patterns.

Being a C4 plant – a carbon fixer in high-temperature and low-moisture conditions – it’s highly adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions and elevations.

While cultivating amaranth is quite easy, choosing varieties to plant is more challenging considering all the delicious types to choose from. You just have to decide if you want edible leaves or heads full of seeds.

Whatever the variety, amaranth needs full sun and light, well-draining soil.  For stronger plants, start indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost.

Sow seeds atop pre-dampened seed starter mix, covering them with a thin layer of the same mix. Water thoroughly, cover with a plastic dome lid, then keep at 65-75°F. until sprouts emerge in about 3-7 days.

Pot up when about 3-4” high, keeping plants under lights until last frost. After acclimating, transplant them out in rows, spacing plants 12” apart.

Harvest leaves and stalks for fresh greens. When grain falls from gently shaken plants, put the entire heads in bags, shaking to loosen the grains.

Whether you want an ornamental plant for wonderful seed heads or plan to harvest healthy leaves and grains, put the pink in your garden with the amazing, ancient amaranth.

Seed Sources:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

They have numerous heirlooms and new varieties.


Johnny’s Select Seeds


Eden Brothers

8 varieties to select from.



Oldways Whole Grain Council

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds




Amaranth species are wind pollinated. Deter cross pollination by planting different varieties, including celosia, cockscomb, lambs quarter and pigweed, 1,000 feet from each other.

For flea beetles, use floating row cover until the plants are 2’ high and can handle damage.

Aside from consuming leafy stems and protein-rich grain, amaranth grain pops and makes a great dye.



Popped Amaranth

½ cup of amaranth seeds

1 deep-sided large heavy pot

colander or sieve

Heat a heavy pot over medium high heat until a few drops of water sizzle. Pour in amaranth. Shake continually until seed pops within a few seconds. When popping ceases, remove pot and dump popped amaranth in a colander. Shake to remove burnt or unpopped seeds.

Serve immediately or use in other recipes. ½ cup seed makes about 1 cup of popped amaranth.

Eat as is or use in other dishes like pilaf, atop salads, as a binder for meatless dishes or mix it with chopped toasted nuts and melted dark chocolate for a nutritious bar.


Chocolate Bliss Bars:

Mix 1 cup popped amaranth with ½ cup chopped toasted nuts and 8 oz melted dark chocolate. Spread in an 8”-square parchment-lined pan. Chill in fridge for 15 minutes, then cut into bars. These make a very healthy snack.