Vegetable Amaranths are abundantly cultivated in hot humid regions of Africa, Asia, and the Carribean. Amaranthus tricolor L originated in India where a number of domesticated varieties now occur.
Vegetable Amaranths are grown for the protein-rich leaves and plant tops. The seeds of Vegetable Amaranths may be eaten but grain amaranth species are much better sources of seeds.
Vegetable Amaranths can be direct seeded in the field or transplanted from seedbeds. The tiny seeds must be shallowly planted (1 cm/0.5 in or less) in well-tilled surface soil. Seedlings 5-8 cm (2-3 in) tall may be transplanted; use 8-10 cm (3-4 in) spacing between plants. Vegetable Amaranths like sunny locations; germinating and growing best where day temperatures reach at least 21o C (70o F). Vegetable Amaranths do not produce seed heavily but frequently do reseed themselves and may become weedy, invading other species. Vegetable Amaranths require nutrient-rich soils, with potash and nitrogen in good supply. Amaranthus tricolor L is known for its tolerance to high-aluminum soils and can withstand more arid conditions than most other amaranth species.
Harvesting and Seed Production
The larger leaves of Vegetable Amaranths may be picked weekly over a period of several months during the growing season. Leaves should be freshly harvested for each use. Young growing tips with attached leaves also may be harvested for use as a vegetable or potherb. Stems stripped of leaves by insects may be collected for use as a vegetable.
Pests and Diseases
Damping-off fungi often kill seedlings, especially during continued wet cloudy weather. Seedbeds need to be well-drained and placed in sunny locations. Slugs and snails also may attack seedlings. Insect pests are more serious on Vegetable Amaranths than grain amaranths. Moth and butterfly larvae, grasshoppers, and leaf miners are some of the more common leaf-eating pests. Miniature tents made from fine-mesh screen may be needed to hold back heavy attacks by leaf-chewing insects.
Cooking and Nutrition
Vebetable Amaranth leaves are rich in protein, vitamins A and C, and minerals, especially calcium and iron. Young Vegetable Amaranth leaves may be eaten fresh in salads; however, it is recommended that most Vegetable Amaranth food be cooked because fast-growing vegetables like amaranths accumulate nitrates which may become concentrated enough to be toxic. Also, amaranths produce oxalates which interfere with the use of calcium in the human body. Nitrates and oxalates can be removed from Vegetable Amaranth leaves by boiling them in water for five minutes. Longer boiling reduces vitamin content. The water used for cooking the leaves should not be used in other food preparations. Vegetable Amaranth greens may be prepared as a spinach or added to soups. Bare Vegetable Amaranth stems may be peeled, cooked, and eaten much like the vegetable, asparagus. Cheese-sauces, soy-sauces or vinegar are recommended additives to combat the somewhat bitter taste of spinach preparations made with older leaves.