Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Amaranth and Quinoa

The purpose of a witch's medicinal herb garden is to grow plants that benefit human health.  (Or not.)  So, two new choices for my want list are Amaranth and Quinoah.  They are both from South America, and have benefited human beings for thousands of years, yet they are relatively new to Americans. 
Chenopodium quinoa and Amarantus caudatus were staple foods for Aztecs and Incas, and were used as an integral part of their religious ceremonies.  Although several species of Amaranth are considered weeds, people around the world value them as leaf, vegetables, cerals and ornamentals.   To this day, Amaranth grains are toasted much like popcorn or martala and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a treat called alegría (joy in Spanish). 

Amarantus caudatus

Amaranth and Quinoa are called pseudograins because of their flavor and cooking similarities to grains. These are dicot plant seeds, and both contain exceptionally complete protein for plant sources. Besides protein, amaranth grain provides a good source of dietary fiber and dietary minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and especially manganese. It has been claimed to be beneficial in preventing greying of hair.

 Ancient Amaranth grains still used to this day include the three species, Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus.

Quinoa is a grain that comes from the Andes Mountains of South America. It has been cultivated in Peru, Chile and Bolivia for over 5,000 years. The ancient Incas called quinoa the "mother grain" and revered it as sacred.

Chenopodium quinoa

Quinoa is closely related to species such as beets and spinach.  Its leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable. In its natural state the seeds have a coating of bitter-tasting saponins, making it unpalatable. Most quinoa sold commercially in North America has been processed to remove this coating and the home grower can remove it by soaking or rincing the grain in water. This bitterness has beneficial effects during cultivation, as the plant is unpopular with birds and thus requires minimal protection.

Quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest.

Chicken and quinoa salad

Both Amaranth and Quinoa come in various colors, (red, burgundy, gold, blackwhite)  making it a lovely addition to any garden or culinary dish.  There are plenty of recipes available on line for both grains and they look and sound delicious! 

Amaranth greens stir-fry

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