Amaranth is a tall herb with strong, vertical and branched stalks that grow up to a height of 1m to 1.5 m or three to five feet. This herb grows once in a year and produces leaves that have an insipid green hue with purplish-red blemishes.
The reverse side of the leaves, which are oval in shape and get thinner and pointed at the apex, is intensely veined. The herb bears petite blooms whose hue ranges from crimson to blood-red growing on tall and straight stems during the latter part of summer.
The blooms of amaranth maintain their shape as well as the color even after they are dried. Patterns of the amaranth flowers were first whittled on primeval Greek tombs that denoted immortality.
Owing to its blood-red flowers, ancient medical practitioners used the herb to impede bleeding. In addition, researches have established that amaranth also functions as an astringent and has been used over the centuries to heal diarrhea, excessive menstrual flow and also mouth ulcers.
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Many varieties of the herb are dispensed as harmful weds that have little or insignificant commercial value. Many of these contain mucilage or sticky plant products and sugar, while other species are utilized as pot-herbs that look a lot like blooms of the Chenopodiaceae. Some varieties are also used as outstanding plant fodder for animals despite the fact that they are not grown commercially.
The entire amaranth plant encloses tannin and is caustic or astringent. As mentioned earlier, the herb is useful for healing conditions like diarrhea and unwarranted menstrual flow. In such cases, the herb is used internally. In addition, the herb is also used as a gargle to alleviate the tenderness of the pharynx and also facilitate the treatment of mouth ulcers.
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The herb may also be used externally to cure vaginal discharges, bleeding from nose and other abrasions. Herb may be used fresh, dried and preserved for use when needed.
The tender leaves of the amaranth herb may also be cooked and consumed much like spinach as they possess high intensity of vitamins and minerals. The leaves also have a delicate taste.
The seeds of the herb may be consumed raw or after cooking. Amaranth seeds are very nutritious and an effective substitute of cereals and may also be ingested like popcorns. In addition, the herb's seeds may also be used in salads. To use the seeds in salads, first soak them in warm water for about 12 hours and then leave them untouched for approximately 11 days allowing them to sprout.
Although the seeds of the herb are tiny, the harvesting is trouble-free. Amaranth seeds may be cooked in whole, but since they become very gelatinous or sticky after cooking it becomes difficult to squash all the small seeds in the mouth. And hence, it is found that some of the seeds that cannot be crushed pass through the digestive system without the body absorbing them.
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This herb also produces a red pigment that is used for coloring foodstuff and medicines. Although research reports do not clearly state which part of the herb produces the red dye, the entire amaranth plant also produces green and yellow pigments.
While a number of plants in the amaranth species have somewhat caustic or astringent aspects, many other are diaphoretics or act as sweat inducing agents and also as diuretics helping in enhanced urine outflow. Again there are others that have stimulant or tonic properties.
It is interesting to note that the Ephesian Artemis in primeval Greece considered the amaranth plant to be holy. People in those times believed that the herb had a special curative power and was treated as a mark of immortality. Hence, this herb was often used to beautify the images of the Gods and tombs.
In fact, amaranth derives its name from a Greek word that denotes 'unwithering' or immortality. The name was given to certain herbs because of their ever-lasting features that characterized immortality or permanence.
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Some variety of the amaranth plant has been a favorite garden bloom for people since long. Among them, Amaranthus hypochondriacus also recognized as 'Prince's Feather' that is indigenous to India and grows annually. This herb produces profoundly veined leaves in the form of lances and their reverse side is usually purple hued.
Amaranthus hypochondriacus bears dark crimson hued blooms that are closely clustered on straight stems. Another of this variety is A. caudatus, also known as 'Love-lies-bleeding', which is basically indigenous to Java and Africa. This herb has a robust annual growth and bears dark purple hued blooms supported by nice looking sagging stems.
This variety of amaranth is considered to possess astringent or caustic properties and a decoction or infusion prepared with the herb is used to cure blood spitting as well as a range of hemorrhages or loss of blood from the body. A. caudatus is reported to be so vigorous that preparations made with the herb may also be administered to cure menorrhagia or excessive bleeding during menstruation cycles.
The herb along with other species of amaranth and intimately related to the Aeva genre that is native to India has been often used by herbal medical practitioners as an anthelmintic to destroy parasites in the body.
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On the other hand, Indian herbals medical practitioners use a number of other species of Amaranth such as A. spinosa and A. campestris as diuretics to increase the flow of urine. Indian herbal physicians also use another species of amaranth, A. oleraceus to heal conditions like diarrhea and menstrual problems.
The tender leaves of the herb are also consumed as a vegetable much like the spinach. Another amaranth species known as the A. polygonoides is found in abundance in India as a wildly growing garden herb and is extensively grown in pot for decorative purpose. This variety of the amaranth herb is said to be very nutritious that it is given specially to convalescents and is preferred to various other nutrients.
The tropical regions worldwide as well as the Central American states are home to the amaranth plant, which is seldom found in abundance in the cold climes. Although the herb is now being commercially cultivated, it is usually found growing in the wild.
A well-drained productive soil is ideal for cultivating the amaranth herb that prefers bright sunlight. At times, it is also necessary to provide shelter to the plant to avoid excessive heat to enable its robust growth.
Normally, the amaranth plant can tolerate the pH range between 5.2 and 7.5. It is advisable not to use chemical fertilizers while cultivating amaranth as it might lead to the plant possessing poisonous properties. It may be mentioned here that the different species of the amaranth plant are mostly cultivated in the tropical regions owing to its food value, especially its nutritious leaves and seeds.
The amaranth not only grows vigorously, but is also produces high yields of grains that are edible. As the plants mature quite late in the season it is not very appropriate for cultivation in the northern regions that usually have cold climates.
Propagation by seed: It is advisable to sow the seeds of the amaranth in the later part of spring depending on the weather situations. The seeds may also be sown directly in situ or the original location of the plants. If the herb is being grown in greenhouses, it may be sowed earlier provided the plants are only placed outdoors once the last date of expected frosting has passed.
As the herb grows robustly, even the germination process is speedy and the plant develops faster if the soil is fertile and warm. Normally, a gentle drop in temperature during the night helps in the germination of the seeds. It may be noted here that compared to sowing seeds, cuttings from mature plants develop roots more effortlessly.
While the amaranth herb encloses numerous elements, neither of them is toxic or known to have any specific medicinal feature. This is certainly surprising considering the fact that many species of the herb have been long used by local herbal medicinal practitioners to heal numerous disorders as well as substitutes. They have also been used as antidotes to snake bites and other similar problems.