Well, I have been absolutely amazed at what I am discovering about amaranth, and I think it will take several posts to pass it all on. But this plant deserves it. Amaranth has such a long history, is so versatile, is higher in nutritional value than most greens or grains, and is all around us, not only as a weed but as well-known annuals and perennials! So I begin with a little history.
"A Rose and an Amaranth blossomed side by side in a garden, and the Amaranth said to her neighbor, "How I envy you your beauty and your sweet scent! No wonder you are such a universal favorite." But the Rose replied with a shade of sadness in her voice, "Ah, my dear friend, I bloom but for a time: my petals soon wither and fall, and then I die. But your flowers never fade, even if they are cut; for they are everlasting."
Amaranth continued to be referenced in literature and poetry for centuries, and is found in Milton’ Paradise Lost (1667), in which we learn that Amaranth once grew by the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, but was returned to heaven to shade the fountain of life instead, where the saints adorn their hair with its flowers:
"Immortal amarant, a flower which once
In paradise, fast by the tree of life,
Began to bloom; but soon for man's offence
To heaven removed, where first it grew, there grows,
And flowers aloft, shading the fount of life,
And where the river of bliss through midst of heaven
Rolls o'er elysian flowers her amber stream:
With these that never fade the spirits elect
Bind their resplendent locks."
Now, we can be very thankful that the Aztec human sacrifices were stopped – certainly the neighboring tribes were! That’s why they helped the Spaniards, so the Aztecs would stop stealing them for sacrifice. But we can nonetheless grieve that the amaranth was not exported to Europe and turned into a major crop, as squash and corn and other native American foods were. Alas, its unfortunate association with human sacrifice caused it to almost disappear, living wild in the mountains of Mexico. Although eaten in other parts of the world, it had not been cultivated to perfection the way it had been by the Aztecs. Fortunately, in the 1970s, interest in amaranth as a major food source was revived, superior strains were reclaimed from the wild, and a new amaranth industry was born.
I will go into the tremendous nutritional value of amaranth in my next installment of … Amazing Amaranth!