Good-look­ing gar­den plant good eat­ing too

Central Otago Mirror - - FEATURES -

The leaves of the cut fo­liage plant Amaran­thus tri­color ‘Per­fecta’ are so vi­brantly ap­peal­ing they look al­most good enough to eat. As it turns out, they are.

It’s a cul­ti­var of the more com­monly grown Chi­nese spinach, Amaran­thus tri­color, an ed­i­ble Asian amaranth called veg­etable or leaf amaranth or een choy, which can be eaten fresh or steamed or stir-fried. But whereas the lat­ter has small green leaves with blotches of red, ‘Per­fecta’ has large, showy ones with tomato red and but­ter yel­low var­ie­ga­tions.

‘Per­fecta’ is hard to find th­ese days, but the cul­ti­vars ‘Green & Red’ and ‘Mekong Red’, the lat­ter which has strik­ing all-red leaves, are easy to find, both avail­able from Kings Seeds. Amaranth is a newly re­dis­cov­ered old plant. It was cul­ti­vated by the Aztecs and South­west Na­tive Amer­i­cans as a food crop for thou­sands of years, but more re­cently it has been hailed for its health food sta­tus.

The seeds are high in pro­tein and nu­tri­ents, and it is th­ese that have at­tracted in­ter­est, ever since the United States Na­tional Academy of Sciences rec­om­mended amaranth’s use as a health food in the 1970s.

The leaves con­tain valu­able nu­tri­ents too though, in­clud­ing vi­ta­mins A, B1 and C, plus iron, potas­sium, other min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants.

The leaves are also packed with pro­tein and car­bo­hy­drates. If you want to try them be­fore grow­ing them your­self, look for them at your lo­cal Asian mar­ket, where they should be in abun­dance.

A rel­a­tive of spinach with a sim­i­lar taste, the leaves of veg­etable amaranth have a hint of bit­ter­sweet horse­rad­ish.

They are a great sub­sti­tute for spinach in sum­mer, and can be steamed or cooked briefly like spinach, stir-fried, or thrown into dishes just be­fore serv­ing.

In In­dia the soft stems are eaten like as­para­gus, or you can eat the leaves raw in sal­ads or sand­wiches. Eaten on their own they can taste a lit­tle tangy, so they’re typ­i­cally eaten with other greens.

Amaranth hails from warmer cli­mates, so plants are heat and drought re­sis­tant. Seed can be planted from spring when soil tem­per­a­tures reach 15 de­grees Cel­sius – or at the same time you’d plant corn and cu­cur­bits – and through­out sum­mer and au­tumn. The plants are fast-grow­ing and can be har­vested in about 30 days af­ter sow­ing.

Plant in full sun in free-drain­ing soil, though wa­ter well in dry pe­ri­ods. Plants will tol­er­ate lowfer­til­ity soils, though a light, fer­tile soil will go a long way in pro­duc­ing suc­cu­lent leaves.

Ed­i­ble: Amaran­thus per­fecta is good enough to eat.

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