Good-looking garden plant good eating too
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.