By Amy Renea
See full article in the September issue of Naturally
Amaranth is an under-appreciated native grain with a host of beneficial uses. It grows easily in most of the United States and can be found growing wild in many U.S. states. Typically, wild amaranth is ‘pigweed,’ but you might also find various cultivars popping up in your garden that have seeded from a neighbor’s garden. My initial exposure to amaranth was in our first house where a tiny seed of ‘Hopi Red Dye’ had managed to settle in the cracks of an aging sidewalk. I didn’t know what it was, only that it had beautiful wine red leaves, so I let it go. That tiny little seed in that tiny little crack with its tiny little red leaves grew and grew and grew until it was 6 feet high. Beautiful plumes developed and seed was set for the next generation. I was hooked for life.
Amaranthus is a fantastic native plant for the backyard gardener, but goes well beyond simple attractiveness. The name ‘amaranthus’ actually means “does not fade” and that long lasting quality makes amaranth a perfect choice for crafting, flower arranging and wreath-making. The plumes hold both their color and shape well and once dry, the plant will last for years before succumbing to nature’s crumbling. Once it does, you simply toss the detritus into the compost pile, keeping your holiday decorating guilt free.
You can choose which amaranth you’d like based on simple attraction to form and color, but you might want to dig a little deeper and find an amaranth with even more benefits! Take that ‘Hopi Red Dye’ growing in that crack in my sidewalk — perfect for creating a beautiful red dye! Even better, all amaranths are edible. In fact, they are a fantastic grain that cooks up similar to quinoa. You can even make a crude pop’corn’! In fact, the ease of growing partnered with the nutritional value of amaranth makes it one of the best grains for North American growers. A. cruentus and A. hypochondriacus are regarded as the best for cooking, but a good rule of thumb is that the golden seeds taste much better than the black.
How do you grow Amaranthus?
Growing amaranth from seed is very easy, and there are plenty of heirloom varieties to choose from. Love Lies Bleeding in both green and red is a classic, but Hopi Red Dye, Dreadlocks, Calaloo and Elephant Head are other fun choices.
Simply scatter seed on a raked area of soil in fall or spring and let nature do its work. Amaranth can be grown in large containers as well, but will not grow as tall as it will in the ground.
What is an heirloom variety?
An heirloom seed means that the plant can grow from seed, and it has not been hybridized. In other words, you can collect the seeds from your plants each year, replant them and produce the exact same plant year after year.
How do you harvest the seed?
Wait until the plumes are dry and then shake them into a bag. The small, black or golden seeds will shake loose. Mature seed will fall off immediately, while immature seed might need a little massaging to release tint the bag. If you are harvesting for viable seed, skip this step, but crafters will want to remove the immature seeds as they will fall out continually as the plant dries. If you store the seeds, keep them in a cool, dark and dry place.
Wreath-Making with Amaranthus
Amaranth plumes can be utilized in any dried arrangement, but the curved nature of the plant makes them ideal for wreath-making. Simply attach the still pliable stems to a wreath form with wire and then add in touch up bits with hot glue for a pretty and long-lasting wreath. Green and brown look great all year, the oranges and yellows are pretty for fall and the reds/greens can even transition into Christmas time.
Tips for Amaranthus
– Pick plants for crafting/arranging a little early to reduce the amount of seed
– Wait until black/gold seeds are clearly visible in plumes if you desire viable seed
– Gather plumes when they are dry on the stalk or hang to dry
– Shake plumes into a bag to remove any seed and chaff
– Bend stalks into a wreath form while they are still pliable
– Use hot glue to attach dry “fillers”
– Plant harvested seeds in fall or spring
Amy Renea is the author of Crafting with Nature and blogs at A Nest for All Seasons. She lives in central PA with her family in a former B&B named Stonecrest. You can find more gardening articles from Amy on Houzz.com and check out her crafts at CraftsUnleashed.com.
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