Foraging with the Wildman: Amaranth

Wildman Steve Brill is the go to guy for foraging so we went to the Wildman to learn about just that. Having made a name for himself nationally for his extreme knowledge and experience of edible and medicinal wild plants and getting arrested in Central Park back in 1986 for eating a flower, Steve will now share his know how with Under the Tuscan Gun.com in a weekly post showcasing different wild plants each week.

Amaranth:

This group of nearly 40 weedy looking, leafy planys, two to eight feet tall, bears large, distinct, dense, upright spikes of tiny seeds. There’s no strong, distinct odor.

The coarse, oval to lance shaped, long stalked, alternate, toothless leaves grow from one to two inches long.

Thousands of tiny, green, inconspicuous flowers surrounded by hair like bracts, create conspicuous, dense masses in the Summer. Then thousands of tiny, round, black seeds, also in dense clusters and surrounded by papery bracts, cram into the same locations in Autumn.

Habitat: Fields, disturbed habitats, roadsides and cultivated areas.

Primary Habitats: Disturbed habitats, Edge Habitata, Fields, Lawns, Parks, Trailsides and Roadsides.

Range: It’s also native to Mexico and Europe. The seeds are so small, a muddy-footed migrating bird blown of course by a storm could have transported it across the Atlantic either way in prehistoric times.

Primary Seasons:

Early Summer – Mid Summer, Early Fall

Other Seasons – Early Summer- Mid Summer, Early Fall – Mid Fall

The leaves are good in the Summer and the seeds ripen in autumn, the greatest harvest being mid-fall.

How to Spot:

Look for a coarse looking plant with oval to lance-shaped, long-stalked, medium-sized alternate leaves. Large, dense, coarse clusters of tiny green flower masses are present mid to late Summer and similar clusters of seeds in the Fall.

Cautions:

Don’t harvest amaranth if Hernando Cortes is watching. He made amaranth illegal when conquered the Aztec Indians, objecting to use in human sacrifice (while in his native Spain, the Inquisition was burning people at the stake for religious crimes such as being Jewish), and icidentally weakening them through starvation, so he could steal their gold. The punishment for possession of the controlled substance was death!

Also don’t eat the leaves if you have kidney problems. Like spinach, amaranth leaves contain oxalic acid(in quantities harmless to healthy people.)

Harvesting:

Simply strip the leaves from young plants. A few pieces of tender leaf stalks and stems are alright to include.

To harvest the seeds look for amaranth where it’s very abundant. Clip off large numbers of seed clusters with garden or kitchen shears, or a pocket knife. Put them  in a supermarket shopping bag and let them dry out a few weeks. You can store them indefinitely that way.

Food Uses:

I find the leaves are unpleasantly bitter raw, but some people do eat them. Serve them to a raw food enthusiast you don’t like.  On the other hand they’re excellent

cooked,  little like spinach with overturns of string beans. Add them to soups, stews, sauces especially tomato sauce or vegetable dishes. They are also great sautéed or steamed and strong tasting enough that you can stir in your favorite spices or sauces in the end and just serve with salt and pepper and a dash of olive or sesame oil. They cook in about 10 to 15 minutes.

Rub the dry seed heads over a bowl to remove the seeds. Transfer to a tray or cookie sheet and blow a fan across the tray over the sink or outdoors to get rid of the chaff. Use the seeds immediately or store indefinitely in tightly closed jars.

Although not technically a grain, you can cook the nutty flavored seeds as you would a grain. Boil them in water to cover for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the seeds are soft like rice. You may use soy, nut or oat milk instead of water, plus fresh or dried fruit, sweet herbs like mint, cinnamon or ginger and a sweetener to make a sweet, hot cereal. To make them more nutty tasting, toast the seeds in a pan over the medium until they pop, stirring very often, before adding the liquid.

Amaranth seeds are also excellent when included in grain dishes, upping the flavor and nutrition as part of a rice pilaf or stuffing. Try using 4 parts oat and 1 part toasted amaranth in your favorite oatmeal recipe, cooked along with raisins and fresh fruit.

Nutrition:

Amaranth seeds provide vitamin A, K, B2, B6, C and folate, as well as palmitic, oleic and linoleic acids, plus the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. They also provide a great amount of more complete protein than that in true grains.

Medicinal Uses:

The leaves are astringent. An infusion has been used as gargle for hoarseness as well as for diarrhea, excessive menstruation and intestinal bleeding.