Grain amaranth is an attractive plant with tender, edible leaves when young. It grows between 4 and 8 feet with red/maroon leaves with seed heads yielding many tiny seeds.
Amaranth seed is high in protein (15-16%) and contains essential amino acids that are not frequently found in grains. Amaranth contains three times as much fiber and five times as much iron as wheat, as well as twice the calcium of milk. Using amaranth in combination with wheat, corn or brown rice results in a high quality complete protein. Amaranth also contains a form of vitamin E, which lowers cholesterol. Cooked amaranth is easily digested, and has traditionally been given to those recovering from an illness or ending a fasting period.
The seeds of amaranth produce seedlings that are tiny and somewhat fragile in comparison to crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans. Amaranth seedlings can easily be blocked from emergence by a thin crust on the soil formed after a rain. Select soils that are lower in clay, and manage the seedbed to minimize chance of crusting. The optimum time for planting, is early June, but it can be planted with little yield difference from the second week in May until mid-June. After mid-June, yields start to drop off.
Wait to harvest until about a week after the first hard frost, letting the frost completely kill the plant and make the crop drier for harvesting. Amaranth seeds may start to shatter and fall to the ground if the crop is left standing too long, after a frost has occurred.
Real Seeds has a detailed photo essay on how to process amaranth.
Hope gardeners consider growing a few plants when they get some seeds at Seedy Saturday.