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Miracle food and human sacrifice: There’s no end to the gardening drama

By Penny Stine

When I was planning my garden and ordering seeds last winter, I admit that I was easily swayed by the price of some of the seeds, particularly for the flowers, since I garden because I love to eat. I’ll shell out the dough for a more expensive tomato seed if it promises flavor that’s out of this world, but I tended to stick with cheap flower seeds.
So when I saw an online sale of 75 cents for a packet of Amaranthus Candelabra seeds, I bought them simply because they were cheap. I had no idea if they’d grow well here or even what the plant looked like.
It turns out that they grow very well here. And they look cool. The amaranth is the giant droopy burgundy plant in front of the corn:

Before pulling the plant out this fall, I decided to gather some seeds for planting next year and Googled to find out the best time and method for gathering seeds. What I learned was shocking. Well, in a historical, horticultural kind of way.
Amaranth is native to South America and has been grown there for thousands of years. The seeds are supposed to be one of the most nutritious super foods out there, which is interesting. The Spaniards tried to wipe out the plant after conquering the Aztec empire, which adds intrigue.  

See, the Aztecs had that pesky little problem of human sacrifice and they mixed the blood of their sacrifices with amaranth seeds, which is rather nasty and horrible. Hence, the shocking part of its history.

Although cultivation was outlawed and stopped in many places due to its association with human sacrifice, the plant survived in a few remote areas. Nutritionists began doing more research about the plant in the 1970s and discovered its superhero qualities, which include an amazing amount of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids.

I cut the flowers from my plants and put them on top of the lid on the back of our Avalanche while trying to figure out the best way to shake out the seeds, which are the tiny little black specks that look like fleas on the truck lid:

Some websites say that the leaves are edible, too, but it’s really the seeds, which, as you can see, are practically on the microscopic scale, that are the miracle food. I read somewhere that it could be one of the more important crops for subsistence farmers in Africa.

Hmmm…. Really?

They couldn’t find anything bigger for subsistence farmers to grow and depend on than itty-bitty seeds that wouldn’t fill a hummingbird?

I managed to almost fill a small plate with the seeds from all those flowers.

I grew an ornamental variety and not the crop variety, but I’ve seen the pictures. The “crop” seeds aren’t much bigger. Growing microscopic food makes no sense to me, but I’m just a gardening blogger and not a plant research person with the potential to save the world from starvation.

I am saving seeds to plant more next year and may even try to grow another type of amaranth because it looked cool growing in the garden. And I may put a tablespoon of seeds in the next batch of bread I bake just to see if it makes me want to leap tall buildings in a single bound or save little children from burning buildings, but I'm not holding my breath that the seeds would keep me from starvation this winter if the grocery stores went out of business.  


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