If I remember rightly my introduction to amaranth was seeing it on T.V. during an episode of "Burke’s Backyard" when Don produced a section on the budgerigar. He was shown plucking huge sprays of it and hanging it in his aviary. I had a friend with an amaranth plant in her garden; I asked for some seeds and have had a ready supply ever since.

As well as the common red form of amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) there are two other forms of amaranth - grain amaranth and leaf amaranth.

Grain amaranth - this plant grows to two metres tall and once formed a part of the staple diet of the Aztec Indians in South America. The plant produces abundant small seeds which are rich in protein. The information sheet says that the foliage may be eaten like spinach - I found the leaves to be large and rough, not unlike sunflower leaves in texture so I did not try them! The plant grew well when it was in a sunny position with compost enriched soil reaching the size of a good sweetcorn crop. Where the plants were growing in poorer soil and/or in shade they did less well but still produced enough seed to be useful. The seedlings can be planted out in rows 45 cm apart with the plants 25 -30 cm apart.


A head of grain amaranth


Grain and rea amaranth


Read amaranth ready to pick

Leaf amaranth - is a tropical plant which is widely cultivated in the Orient as a green vegetable. It produces an attractive display of nutritious soft leaves which are especially rich in Vitamin A. It is versatile and grows well in cool temperate areas as well as in the tropics. It can be sown in a similar way to the grain amaranth but will not reach the same height; expect plants to reach anywhere between 30cm and 1.4m depending on soil type and climate. I did try the leaves of this and used them in salads and stir fries.

I found the grain amaranth to be invaluable for the feeding of chicks in the nestbox and gave it liberally to feeding pairs for this purpose. It also probably saved the life of one little fellow who was not doing very well after leaving the breeding cabinet. As he was not feeding himself but sat fluffed up and miserable I tried him with some grain amaranth and he started to eat straight away. Until he was eating other grains sufficiently I gave him his own sprigs of grain amaranth two or three times a day, he loved it and began to thrive.

By accident I found out some additional nutritional information about the grain amaranth as a family member is using it as a natural remedy and health food.

The grains are puffed and used as a breakfast cereal - this ties in with the information I had about the Aztecs puffing the grains to eat.

The grain contains 17% protein, 6% fat, 72% carbohydrate with 11% dietary fibre. It is 92% digestible.

Amaranth is a nutritional wonder. This ancient Aztec cereal has the highest level of protein of any grain and the quality of the protein is even better than soya beans.
Amaranth contains significantly high quantities of all 8 essential amino acids not produced by your body and the 14 other non-essential amino acids.

Amaranth also contains :
a rare group of Vitamin E isomers known as tocotrienols,
Squaline which is found in olives and in the deep sea dog shark,
Phytosterols which are common in soya beans

It has exceptionally high nutritive value with high digestibility, optimum amino acid composition, high quantities of quality carbohydrates, substantial dietary fibre, is gluten free and has no cholesterol.

It contains B group vitamins, Thiamine, Riboflavin and Niacin,
Ascorbic acid (Vit.C) and Vitamin E isomers.
It also contains Folacine, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Sodium and Potassium.
Amino acids present include : Aspartic, Glutamic, Serine, Glycine, Histidine, Arginine, Threonine, Alanine, Proline, Tryptophan, Valine, Methionine+Cys, Isoleucine, Leucine, Phenytal+Tyro and Lysine.

Amaranths grow best in summer, so seed should be planted in seed trays in spring ready for planting out as the weather warms up. Warning - snails love them!

I have also grown my own beetroot, having read about the ability of this to stop the growth of fatty tumours in birds. I feed single leaves as well as pulling the plant and letting the birds get stuck into the root of the beet (hence - beetroot) as well. This comes with the warning - not before shows or you may have some red faces!

Silverbeet is also a good plant to have growing and will grow all year round in our climate. Use the leaves from the outside, removing one at a time and your plants will go on for a couple of years. Birds in the breeding cabinet love this, especially the stems which are crisp and high in water content.

Other easy to grow vegetables that the birds benefit from are carrots, broccoli and sweetcorn. Broccoli is a winter crop which continues to produces sprigs suitable for the birds after the main head has been cut. This makes broccoli available for the birds for an extended period. Sweetcorn is a summer crop and the birds love to eat it straight from the cob.

Another unusual plant that I have experimented with is the pigeon pea. Kelwyn Kakoshke uses this as a sprouting seed instead of mung beans. Pigeon pea (Cajaunus cajan) is a tropical or subtropical plant which grows into a bush up to 2 metres in height. I have yet to see how the seeds will sprout and whether the birds will take to them.

© B.M. Rea 2004 revised 2009