Friday, September 4, 2015

Amaranth (Amaranthus)



This year we have had a sweltering hot summer in Hawaii.  Weekly storms pass by the islands and leave us sweating without our usual cooling trade winds.  It feels more like Samoa.  The only good thing about it all is the resulting rain that saves me from watering the garden and makes the countryside lush and green.  I noticed another thing on my frequent walks down the through the empty lot to the nearby beach.  The wild Amaranth weeds are coming up all over the place.  Usually I have to wait for winter rains to gather Amaranth for cooking but this year it is in full abundance in the middle of the summer heat.

There are several wild greens that I pick to eat and I have written about New Zealand Spinach ( August, 2013 ) and Purslane ( Feb, 2013 ) if you want to look back at earlier posts.  Amaranth is definitely another one of my favorite wild greens.  Locally it is often called Chinese Spinach and I have seen Amaranth sold at produce markets in Hong Kong and Malaysia.  These days you will find new varieties of Amaranth being sold at Hawaii farmers markets.  However, I am a cheap forager who likes to find free food so I will stick with the wild plants growing out in the empty lot.  There are hundreds of varieties of Amaranth which are native to Central America and it was a prized crop of the Aztecs.  Some of these varieties can now be found growing wild throughout the world.

Spiny Amaranth

The two common varieties I find growing in our area are the Spiny Amaranth  and the Slender Amaranth.  The Spiny Amaranth (Amaranthus spinosus L.), also called Pakai Kuku in Hawaiian, is the one that I eat the most.  It grows very erect to about four feet in height and is easy to pluck the leaves off despite the sharp spike thorns that grow on it.

Slender Amaranth

The Slender Amaranth (Amaranthus vindis L.) does not have the sharp thorns but it tends to spread out close to the ground and so I pick from these only when they are really lush and fresh.  I usually throw the Amaranth leaves into a soup or stir fry although the young leaves are fine in a salad.  Some people gather the seeds by shaking the seed heads into a bag and then adding the soaked seeds to oatmeal or breads.  The seeds are high in protein while the green leaves have good vitamin content.

If you are interested in foraging for natures free food I recommend the web site eattheweeds.com

Aloha