If you’re looking to build a stockpile of food for “just in case,” amaranth is one of the smartest kinds of foods to have on hand.
A grain crop, amaranth can also be harvested as a leafy green. In addition to serving as an abundant food source, it provides many other benefits in a survival setting, too.
If you’re interested in growing amaranth for long-term survival, here’s what you need to know.
What is Amaranth?
When most people think of grain crops, they probably consider options like wheat, barley, and perhaps (in a bit more exotic trend) quinoa. Amaranth isn’t quite as common, particularly when you start scouring supermarket shelves in the United States.
However, it’s been around for many years. In fact, ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans grew this grain as an important source of nutrients.
Technically, amaranth, or amaranthus, refers to an entire genus of annual or short-lived perennial plants. Some are cultivated as vegetables while others are cereals or ornamental plants. Most of them are technically summer weeds, often referred to as pigweeds.
A herbaceous plant or shrub, amaranth has beautiful flowers and edible leaves.
Depending on what you want to get out of your amaranth plants, you may want to consider growing amaranth for the following uses:
If you’re interested in harvesting grain from amaranth, you’ll want to grow a variety such as Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus hypochondriacus, or Amaranthus cruentus.
These are best since their seeds are higher in protein, are easily harvested, and produce a large number of seeds for a smaller area. They also grow quite quickly.
You can use amaranth seeds as grain for ground flour. Amaranth flour can be used to make everything from bread to cereals, cookies and crackers.
Leaves, Stems, and Roots
Amaranth plants can also be grown for their leaves, stems, and roots. You will want to consider growing amaranth plants like Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus dubious, Amaranthus tricolor, or Amaranthus blitum if that’s the case.
You can harvest the leaves in dishes like soups, stir-fries, and salads.
Nutritional Benefits of Amaranth
Naturally gluten-free, amaranth is a great source of fuel for people who can’t tolerate gluten in their carbohydrates.
High in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and all kinds of micronutrients, amaranth is a serious nutritional powerhouse. Just one cup has 251 calories (more than pasta) and nearly 10 grams of protein. It offers 46 grams of carbohydrates, and just over 5 grams of fat.
It also contains an unusually high amount of manganese, clocking in at 105% of your recommended daily intake.
Manganese is not only necessary for your body in a survival situation for its full-body benefits, but it also contributes to brain function. In other words, if you need to think sharp in a pinch, manganese is the nutrient that’s going to help you do it.
Of course, amaranth isn’t just a one-hit wonder when it comes to nutrients – it’s also high in vitamins and minerals like copper, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron.
Planting Seeds & Transplanting
There are several kinds of amaranth you can grow, some of which are prized as leafy greens and others that are grown for their seeds.
For most people, it makes sense to grow both types on the homestead so that you have access to all of Amaranth’s many benefits in a survival situation.
Amaranth, regardless of the type, is almost always best grown from seed. You can directly seed the plants into your plot, or start them indoors about six to eight weeks prior to the last frost in your area.
If you plant directly outdoors, wait until the last frost date and wait until the soil has started to warm in the spring, ideally at the end of May or early June in most areas.
Sow seeds thinly, planting about ¼” deep, and cover with fertile seed starting soil or potting mix. Be sure to space seeds or seedlings about 10-12” apart (if you’re planting seeds, you may have to go back in and thin them, but rest assured that they can tolerate a little bit of crowding without too many ill effects).
Once planted, it should take your seeds three or four days to germinate at temperatures of around 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. They will need 110 to 150 days to fully mature, so for many gardeners, it makes sense to start seeds indoors to give these annuals plenty of time to mature.
Caring for Amaranth Plants
Fortunately, since amaranth is native to warmer climates, it is very tolerant of heat and drought. You should grow your plants in well-draining soil, ideally in full sunlight. Water only during prolonged dry periods, about once or twice per week.
Amaranth benefits from a bit of mulch. This will not only help keep the soil adequate moist but will also help to fight weeds.
Fortunately, amarnath is a bit more tolerant of weed competition than other kinds of garden plants. Since it grows in the wild in so many places, it is quite adept at keeping up, even under challenging conditions!
You can reduce the likelihood of weeds from popping up by mixing in some radish seeds when you sow. This will help mark your rows, and also discourage weeds from appearing between your amaranth plants. Weed regularly and mulch around your plants to get rid of weeds entirely.
Although you don’t technically have to fertilize your amaranth plants, it’s a good idea if you want to increase your overall yields, especially if you are growing a leaf type of amaranth.
When you grow plants in average garden soil, they’ll grow to about four or six feet tall. Those growing in rich soil can be twice as tall. In a survival situation, the more plants you have, the better!
Consider planting in rich soil, or amending with compost prior to planting. The ideal soil for amaranth is well-drained loam, but it can also do well in just about any kind of soil besides poorly-draining clay.
Otherwise, you can add a nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich fertilizer just once or twice during the growing season. A compost tea will also suffice.
Pests and Diseases
There are few pests and diseases to which amaranth is prone. However, you may want to watch out for problems like anthracnose, damping-off, wet rot, and pigweed weevil.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that causes leaves and branches of your amaranth plants to die, and also leads to necrotic lesions on leaves. To prevent it, try to avoid injuring plants when harvesting or weeding around them.
You can also plant resistant varieties and practice good spacing to prevent this disease. Once it affects your plants, it can only be treated with fungicide, though there aren’t many that are effective on amaranth.
Damping-off is common with many kinds of garden plants. It causes poor germination and seedling collapse, and is a fungal disease.
Most common in wet soils, you can prevent it by not planting too deeply or sowing seeds too thickly. Limiting your watering can help, too. Unfortunately, once damping-off begins to affect your plants, there is no treatment.
Wet rot causes stems to appear as though they have deep, water-soaked sores. It may cause a loss of leaves on your plants.
This fungal disease is most common on plants that have already been damaged by insects or cultivation. You can plant wet rot-resistant varieties, and practice proper spacing to reduce the likelihood of this problem.
The pigweed weevil is the primary pest of the amaranth plant. This pest feeds on foliage in its adult form, while larvae will hollow out stems.
Although the weevils themselves don’t usually do enough harm to cause any long term damage, they can open the door for fungi and other pathogens to injure your plant.
The only way to totally get rid of weevils (an infestation of which leads to bending stems and withering plants) is to destroy those that are affected.
There are several companion plants you might want to grow with your amaranth, several of which can improve water retention and add extra nitrogen, both of which will help the health of your amaranth.
Eggplant is one such option. Eggplant requires full sun and grows as a bush, meaning it’s a good plant to grow between your rows of amaranth to mark where your amaranth is planted.
You can also grow beans and peas among your amaranth. They’ll add nitrogen to the soil, and the amaranth, in return, will serve as a living trellis for your legumes.
Corn is a good plant to grow if you are trying to plant amaranth in tough soil. It forms strong roots that tap deep into the soil, meaning it can break up hard-packed ground to allow the more delicate roots of your amaranth to penetrate.
Harvesting and Storing Amaranth
There are several ways you can harvest and store amaranth for survival.
Harvesting and Storing Seeds
Amaranth plants will keep flowering until they are hit by the first hard frost. Often, your seed will open long before that, usually about three months after planting.
You can tell if your seeds are ready for harvest by shaking the flower heads. See if any seeds fall off. If they do, your plants are likely ready to go.
You can gather the grain by bending over the plants in dry weather, holding them over a bucket as you rub the seed heads into the container.
Just one plant can produce thousands of seeds, allowing you to grow and harvest enough to store for months or years on end. The grain, considered a seed, is part of the Pigweed family. Therefore, you can harvest the seed heads by cutting them off the stem after the plant has gone to seed.
Let the seeds dry for a few days in full sunlight, keeping them covered so they aren’t exposed to rainfall or moisture.
Put the seed heads in a paper bag, shake, and let the seeds fall off one by one from the seedheads. You can then strain them through a sieve to get them out of the tough outer shell.
You can store these in an airtight container (ideally one made out of glass). Put the container in a cool, dry spot where it won’t be in direct sunlight. When stored like this, your amaranth seeds should last several years.
You can also grind the seeds to make flour. You can store this in an airtight container, too, or in the freezer or refrigerator.
While amaranth flour doesn’t necessarily have to be kept cold, it has a high fat content that means cool temperatures can extend its shelf life (it will last around three months in the fridge and six months in the freezer).
Harvesting Leafy Greens
Amaranth is a “cut and come again” vegetable, meaning you can cut the leafy greens and keep coming back for more until the plant dies back at the first frost.
When you do this, avoid cutting more than a third of the plant’s leaves at once. You can eat the leaves immediately, cook them up, or store them in the refrigerator just as you would any other kind of leafy green.
You can harvest and can leafy amaranth greens for later use with no refrigeration required. Since they are low-acid vegetables, you should use a pressure canner to preserve your leaves. They can also be canned in dishes like stews.
5 Gallon Bucket
When it comes to storing amaranth grain or flour, you may be able to store them in large five-gallon buckets or storage bags. You should treat the grain like any other kind of long term grain you might decide to store.
Both amaranth leaves and seeds can be frozen, as can products like amaranth flour. When it thaws, use it as though it were fresh.
Survival Uses of Amaranth
There are several survival uses of amaranth to consider if you’re considering growing this superfood.
The most obvious benefit of growing amaranth is that it will provide you with a food source for your homestead. Amaranth leaves are prized for their texture and taste, making them a decision in salad when they’re cut fresh.
They’re also more nutritious than many other kinds of greens, like spinach. Like most greens, however, they don’t last very long at room temperature.
You can also grind harvested amaranth seeds into flour. This flour is gluten-free and is perfect for baking. When mixed with water, amaranth flour offers recipes a flatbread-like consistency.
Even if you don’t have a mechanical or electric grinder to process your amaranth down into flour, you can still make amaranth flour.
All you need to do is use a couple of bricks. The final product won’t be quite as refined, but it will still work just as well in most recipes.
You can even add amaranth to other grains to give them a bit of a boost. Sprinkle it among other grains, like rice, and you won’t even notice it’s there.
However, you’ll be adding additional calories, protein, and nutrients – something that is beyond helpful in a survival situation in which calories and nutrients are scarce.
Amaranth can even be eaten like popcorn! Just add a tablespoon of the seeds to a hot pot, stir them to keep them from burning as they pop, and enjoy the fluffy kernels as a snake.
Amaranth can be used as a thickening agent if you don’t have access to flour or cornstarch, too. It is naturally of a gelatinous consistency when you mix it with water, making it easy to add to any kind of recipe or solution that calls for a thickener.
Amaranth is unique compared to other grains and vegetables in that it has a high percentage of fatty acids. The main fatty acid in amaranth is named squalene, and it is often extracted for use in cosmetics, dietary supplements, and cooking.
You can even use amaranth flowers to make dye. Some varieties of amaranth, like ‘Hopi Red Dye,’ are better suited for this task than others. However, it’s a good way to increase your self-sufficiency if you’re hoping to be more resilient in a survival situation.
Here’s a use for amaranth that you may not have heard about yet! There are dozens of types of amaranth that can not only add beauty to your garden or landscape, but also can be used as a biological tool to remove lead and other contamination from the soil.
It is self-seeding, so if you live in an area warm enough to grow amaranth as a perennial, you may be able to reap the benefits of it for quite some time.
If you brew your own beer (a must-have skill for a survival situation!) you might want to consider using amaranth rather than your traditional grains. Not only can it brew a beer that’s gluten-free, but it is also quite tasty, too.
Grow, Harvest, Cook, and Experiment
There are so many reasons to consider growing amaranth on your homestead. Whether you grow it as an ornamental, for its leafy greens, or for its seeds, it’s a great option to add to your list of seeds to start each spring.
Rebekah is a homesteader and English school teacher from Ohio. On her journey to transition to full-time writing and self-sufficiency, Rebekah is raising chickens, sheep, and growing tons of veggies, particularly zucchini, in her giant greenhouse.