What are Amaranth Leaves?
Just as the name would suggest, amaranth leaves are the leafy green from the amaranth plant. Normally grown in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean (where it’s referred to as “callaloo”), the leaves are showing up more often in the U.S. as a result of immigrants from Asia and Africa introducing them. In the U.S., we're more accustomed to the grain portion of the amaranth plant. It's a gluten-free ancient grain that's comparable to rice. But it turns out that the leafy portion of the grain is just as nutritious.
7 Reasons Why We Love Amaranth Leaves
1. Contains tocotrienols
Tocotrienols are a form of vitamin E that may reduce cholesterol as well as your risk of heart disease, according to a study published in the 2014 addition of the journal Nutrition & Metabolism. The study also found that tocotrienols may be protective against cancer and have anti-inflammatory qualities.
2. Reduces stroke risk
Amaranth leaves are a good source of potassium. Having ample potassium in the body helps move oxygen to the brain which stimulates neural activity and cognitive function while reducing your risk of stroke. Potassium can also improve brain function by maintaining electroconnectivity in the brain.
3. Reduces hypertension
Amaranth leaves also contain magnesium, a mineral that combines with potassium to reduce your risk of hypertension, which is protective against heart disease, according to a 2007 edition of the journal Lipids in Health and Disease. Magnesium also has a host of other benefits including increasing energy, calming nerves and anxiety, relieving muscle spasm and aches, and preventing osteoporosis.
4. Improves digestion
Amaranth leaves are a significant source of dietary fiber which makes them helpful at reducing constipation. They're also easier to digest than other leafy greens like kale, which often needs to be massaged or cooked slightly before eating to improve digestibility.
5. Good source of iron
We’re always looking for good sources of iron, especially in the plant-based world, and amaranth leaves don’t disappoint. They help prevent anemia in those that are iron deficient.
6. Delicious fermented
A traditional African amaranth green preparation involves fermenting the leaves and jarring them to be eaten in the off season. Fermenting the greens is doubly healthful because you get to enjoy the inherent healthfulness of the green as well as the benefits of fermented foods. Fermented foods are good for digestion because they contain probiotics or good bacteria. Fermenting the entire crop is a good way to use the stems as well. All you have to do is add the amaranth leaves to a mason jar and then cover with filtered water, half of a sliced onion, and two tablespoons of salt. Store for a few weeks in a cool place, opening the jar every few days to release built up gases. Keeps for three to six months in the refrigerator.
Amaranth leaves are versatile greens that can be eaten raw in a salad, added to a stir fry, soup, or a simmered dish like curry. As mentioned above, they can be fermented and jarred to be eaten year round. Add amaranth leaves any place that you would traditionally add spinach as they have a similar texture and appearance.
How to Grow Amaranth
Another benefit of amaranth leaves are that they're easy to grow. The seedlings can often be found at the farmers markets and Asian food markets, and the seeds can be purchased online. Here are some tips for growing amaranth:
- If you’re planning to grow them outside, start seedlings in the early spring in the full sun. You can also start them indoors as seedlings before the end of the first frost and transfer them outdoors once it gets warmer.
- Water amaranth plants during dry periods, once or twice per week.
- Plants can be grown in drier clay soil but they do really well in well drained rich compost. If your soil is not ideal, consider growing in raised beds with compost.
- Plant the seeds about seven to ten inches apart, although they will tolerate a little crowding.
- They do really well in warmer climates and are drought-resistant. But they can also be grown in cooler climates.
- They grow one to two feet in height.
Try this simple and delicious amaranth greens preparation.
- 2 pounds amaranth leaves chopped
- 4 cups water
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 large tomatoes chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- Rinse amaranth leaves and then dry in a towel.
- Heat oil up to medium heat and add onion. Sauté for five minutes.
- Add tomatoes and amaranth, cook until soft.
- Add coconut milk and salt and cook for ten minutes.
- Serve with cooked rice, or cooked amaranth grain.