Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Amaranth - It's not just a weed - You can eat it

I’ve become more and more interested in learning which wild plants could be used as food in a crisis. This is difficult unless you educate yourself as to which plants are safe and edible. There is a lot of info out there, you just have to look.

One of the more interesting edible plants in North America is Amaranth. This plant’s use dates back to the pre-Columbian Aztecs and has long been used for its grain and medicinal purposes. In Mexico, the seeds are roasted for a traditional drink called “atole”. Peruvians use it to make beer and in other regions to treat toothaches and fevers.

Amaranth is a bush plant that grows 3-10 feet tall. There are vegetable and grain varieties. Plants will produce up to 50,000 seeds each. Amaranth is very hearty and will grow in your garden, or just about anywhere and reseeds itself. The grain is very nutritious, and the leaves are on par with spinach, which it’s related to.

Amaranth is high in protein, lysine and methionine, essential amino acids. It’s higher in fiber than wheat and has calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A and E. There are many varieties, one of which, Spiny Amaranth, is shown to control blood glucose, which could be very useful in a long-term crisis situation.

To harvest the seeds, cover the plant lightly with a non-porous bag, gently tip the plant to the side and shake. You’ll need to winnow to separate all the debris that may come along. Amaranth grain must be cooked before eating. You can use as a cooked cereal, ground it into flour, pop it like popcorn, sprout it and toast it. You can also add the grain to soups and stews as a thickener. Amaranth flour is useful in pasta and all baked goods, but must be mixed with other flour for yeast breads as it contains no gluten - which makes it perfect for those with gluten allergies.

Boil 1 cup of seeds in 2 1/2 cups liquid for about 18-20 minutes, until they are tender. It has a sticky texture, so shouldn't’t be overcooked as it will become gummy. It has a mild, nutty flavor almost like Quinoa, but without any bitterness.

To store the grain long-term, package in an air-tight container with oxygen absorbers. It should store in a dry, cool place for up to two years. Amaranth has a hard outer shell which makes it store longer than buckwheat or Quinoa.

You can cook the young leaves like spinach and you can use the sprouts in sandwiches and salads. Isn’t it amazing that what most of us think of as a weed, could be so highly valuable and nutritious? I for one will be keeping some Amaranth grain stored away, along with including it in my container garden for the fresh plants. This is definitely a must for your long-term food planning.

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