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Enjoying Amaranth green veggies on your dinner table

Posted by jenna.osiensky | May 18, 2023

Contributed by Joel Felix, Oregon State University

While thinking on the topic for my contribution to the Weeders of the West forum this time around, it hit me that for once we will look at the positive side of some weeds. In this case, Amaranth spp. Amaranthus is a cosmopolitan genus that belongs to the family Amaranthaceae, which is composed of 70+ species found worldwide. Invariably, many members of the Amaranthus family are considered weeds in the United States and worldwide. Among the 70+ species of Amaranthus, 17 are cultivated for edible leaves, and 3 are cultivated as food grains (Sarker et al., 2020). In the United States, Amaranths are broadly called ‘pigweeds’ e.g. redroot pigweed, Powell amaranth, prostrate pigweed, Palmer amaranth, waterhemp, spiny pigweed, smooth pigweed, and tumble pigweed. There are thousands of names for the many Amaranth species worldwide. Amaranth is an interesting genus that is considered weedy while some members are grown ornamentally as well as for grain and/or as a green vegetable. In fact, Amaranth was an important crop for the Aztecs, who used the grain as both food and for religious rituals.

Amaranth is native to Central America where it is cultivated for culinary usage, but has spread nearly worldwide and more so in the tropical world through various routes. Most members of the Amaranth family are annual with simple leaves arranged alternately along hairy or smooth stems. Because of its more efficient C4 photosynthesis pathway, it grows rapidly under summer heat, and it is believed to tolerate acidic, alkaline, or saline soil conditions. Its high protein content (only from grain) makes a valuable impact on human nutrition in various countries.

This brief article will address the leafy amaranths used as vegetables in East Africa and other parts of the continent. Amaranths used as veggies carry various local names such as ‘‘mchicha’’ in Tanzania, ‘‘terere’’ in Kenya, ‘‘aluma’’ and ‘‘heberxefa’’ in Ethiopia, and ‘‘Ddodo’’ in Uganda and Rwanda, and are a popular traditional African leafy vegetable with a long cultural tradition in East Africa and other regions on the continent. Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus dubius, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus are the most widely grown species in Tanzania and other countries in Africa (Fekadu Fufa Dinsa et al., 2019). Whether growing unattended or cultivated, Amaranthus dubius leaves commonly have dark green hues or dark green with splashes of dark purple overlay in the leaf’s center (Figures 1 and 2). Amaranthus dubius tends to have a slow early growth, branching habit, and tendency for late flowering that prolongs vegetative growth and allows multiple leaf harvests (Fekadu Fufa Dinsa et al., 2019) until the plant reaches approximately 1.5 meters.

Amaranth plot in Tanzania.

Figure 1. Amaranth plot in Morogoro, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mwajuma Zinga, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania.

Amaranth monoculture garden in Tanzania.

Figure 2. Amaranth monoculture garden in Morogoro, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mwajuma Zinga, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania.

Amaranthus dubius’ young leaves may be eaten raw or cooked. In Uganda, it is commonly cooked with onions, tomatoes, and peanut sauce. Across East Africa, Amaranthus dubius is normally harvested as whole plants at about 30-cm tall (Figure 3) or leaves picked to allow the plant to continue growing. Young succulent stems and leaves are commonly cooked to soften the texture and enhance flavor. Once cut into pieces, they are sautéed with tomato and onion, or steamed as a simple side dish. The thick nature of the leaves prevents them from becoming too soggy. Amaranthus dubius is a rich source of potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, copper, thiamine, and vitamins A and C (Health Encyclopedia, Umakanta Sanker et al., 2020).

To grow veggie Amaranth, prepare the soil to a smooth tilth in order to accommodate the small seeds. Lightly fertilize the soil and spread Amaranth seeds in rows or broadcast and incorporate in the soil shallowly. As plant growth continues, thin to 15-20 cm (6-8 inches) spacing by harvesting (uprooting) young plants to be used as vegetable. Search for recipes online. Amaranthus dubius would need wider spacing of 30 to 50 cm (12-20 inches) to accommodate its large size as you continue picking leaves.

A Google search yielded various sources of seeds for Amaranth veggie types (I recommend Amaranthus dubius – also referred to as Chinese spinach). So, be adventurous this summer by growing veggie Amaranth and challenge your taste buds to this nutritious plant. By the way, the taste would not be much different from spinach! Bon appetit!


Amaranth veggie greens.

Figure 3. Amaranth veggie greens at a marketplace in Morogoro, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mwajuma Zinga, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania.

References and Other Reading

Fekadu Fufa Dinsa, Peter Hanson, Dolores, R. Ledesma, Ruth Minja, Omary Mbwambo, Mansuetus Severine Tilya, and Tsvetelina Stoilova, 2019. Yield of Vegetable Amaranth in Diverse Tanzanian Production Environments. HortTechnology 29(4): 516-527.

Health Encyclopedia. Nutrition Facts. Amaranth leaves, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt, 1 cup. (Accessed May 12, 2023).

Umakanta Sarker, Md. Motaher Hossain, and Shinya Oba. 2020. Nutritional and antioxidant components and antioxidant capacity in green morph Amaranthus leafy vegetable. Scientific Reports 10:1336. (Accessed May 12, 2023)


2 thoughts on "Enjoying Amaranth green veggies on your dinner table"

  1. Don Morishita says:

    Interesting article Joel. I enjoyed it, but have still not tried eating any pigweed leaves. I’ll take lambsquarters in a stir fry any time. I’ll have to give some pigweed a try.

    1. Joel Felix says:

      Hi Don,
      It’s good to hear from you and thanks for reading my article. Yes, common lambsquarters’ leaves are edible, but more so for amaranth in many countries in south and central America, Africa, China, India, the Caribbean, etc. etc. Amanthus dubius (a.k.a. Chinese spinach) is one of the best as a green vegetable. There seems to be an abundance of seed sellers online. Give it a try, Don, and let me know whether you like it or will stick with lambsquarters in a stir fry instead. Enjoy your summer gardening season!

      Joel Felix

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