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Vermont Garden Journal: The Leafy Green Goodness Of Amaranth

Amaranth is grown commercially as a grain crop but can also be planted in your garden as a leafy green for salads.
Amaranth is grown commercially as a grain crop but can also be planted in your garden as a leafy green for salads.

Amaranth has been called the food of the gods, superfood of the Aztecs and the next “quinoa.” But we know amaranth as mostly an ornamental plant with colorful, weeping flower heads. While farmers continue to experiment with growing amaranth commercially as a grain crop, another way to enjoy this American vegetable is as a leafy green that you can grow in your garden.

Amaranth is related to the common red-rooted pigweed. But instead of tossing this weed, eat it. We eat pigweed mixed with other wild and cultivated greens in salads. It's highly nutritious and tasty. You can take amaranth greens a bit further. Grow cultivated varieties such as Red Leaf Amaranth or Red Callaloo, as it's known in the Caribbean. It features green- and red-colored leaves, tastes similar to spinach, loves heat and is a nice alternative to lettuce.

You can also grow this edible plant for its beauty, too. Colorful varieties such as  'Love Lies Bleeding,' 'Red Garnet,' 'Hot Biscuits' and 'Coral Fountains' make beautiful, late-summer, ornamental plants with dazzling flower heads. They look great in flower arrangements or dried which is a good reason not to eat all your amaranth babies!

Amaranth loves the heat and humidity so plant it now. Just like pigweed, it grows quickly in the summer. Amend the soil with compost and keep the seed bed watered. Harvest the greens for salads and sauteing anytime. Let the mature plants form flower and seed heads, and harvest those for drying once the flowers have faded. Amaranth self-sows so you'll have seedlings next spring as well.

Now for this week's tip: watch for the viburnum leaf beetles on Arrowwood, American cranberry and European cranberry viburnums. Look for defoliated leaves and small yellow caterpillars on the undersides of the leaves. Spray insecticidal soap to thwart them or grow resistant plants such as the Koreanspice viburnum. Healthy defoliated plants should regrow and recover.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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