With approximately 60 species, Amaranthus has established a presence in nearly every corner of the planet, offering beauty to many who behold it, and food and medicine to others.
The Amaranthus variety many gardeners in North America are familiar with is A. caudatus, commonly known as “love lies bleeding,” a large, showy plant with unusual and striking red plumage that offers summer and fall drama.
As the plant matures, impressive, large, and red-tinged light green leaves are joined by long “tails” of drooping flower heads populated by hundreds of tiny deep-crimson blooms.
And while Americans might enjoy Amaranthus for its attractiveness, in other parts of the world, the plant is more popular for its culinary applications, both sweet and savory.
In India, Malaysia, and Indonesia, for example, the leaves are commonly used like spinach, often sauteed with chilies and spices.
This is a delicious way to enjoy the fresh greens, and it’s becoming more popular in the US today. Sometimes you’ll even find it included in CSA boxes from local farms. Another great reason to start growing your own!
The iron- and calcium-rich seeds can be dried and then cooked and eaten as you would oatmeal or porridge, or ground into a flour. As amaranth is gluten free, it’s a nutritious option for those with celiac disease. And it provides three times as much fiber as wheat.
Amaranth was an important food crop for the Aztecs and Incas as well. In some parts of Mexico and the US today, the dried seeds are popped and topped with sweet goodness such as honey, molasses, or chocolate.
For more on cooking with amaranth, we recommend this informative article on our sister site, Foodal.
Medicinally, some use this plant as an astringent, diuretic, or anti-parasitic.
Lovely Fresh or Dried
Native to an as yet un-pinpointed region of the American tropics, A. caudatus now thrives in gardens all over North America.
Also known as tassel flower, the plant’s 2-foot-long “tails” can retain their color for six to eight weeks and look especially striking when planted with chrysanthemum, sunflower, or viburnum.
The flowers are often used in cut flower arrangements, and are also preserved for dried arrangements, though they can lose their vibrant color when dried.
In the Eye of the Beholder
The plant grows 2 to 8 feet tall and from 1 to 3 feet wide. The type of soil will impact the growth of love lies bleeding, with plants growing in rich soil or compost typically getting taller than those grown in average soil. Well-drained loam is best for Amaranthus, but it will do well in almost any soil.
You may be able to find starts at a garden center, or you can plant seeds inside 8 weeks before the last frost.
Expect to see flowers three months after planting seeds.
Amaranthus is fairly pest-free, but keep an eye out for aphids, which can be removed with a blast of water or an insecticidal soap. You can make your own insecticidal soap by mixing 5 tablespoons of pure soap to 1 gallon of water.
Apply a balanced fertilizer monthly throughout the growing season.
A. caudatus re-seeds itself liberally, even earning itself “weed” status in the eyes of some gardeners. Indeed, some amaranthus varieties have been slapped with the undignified nickname “pigweed.” But just stay on top of the seedlings — or let the plant reproduce with abandon — and you’ll be fine.
Amaranthus Plant Facts
- Zones 2-11
- Will tolerate poor soil
- Needs regular watering
- Prefers full sun
- Appreciates monthly feedings
- Flower spikes dry nicely
- Blooms mid-summer to early fall
Where to Buy
Find seeds for this crimson beauty in lots of 500 from Serendipity Seeds, available via Amazon.
This plant will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your landscape.
For a little variety, you might want to add this ‘Emerald’ cultivar to your mix.
Available from NIKITOVKASeeds via Amazon, this plant’s long flowerheads are green rather than the usual deep red. The plants grow 40 to 47 inches tall.
Each package contains approximately 800 seeds.
We know you don’t want to miss out on utilizing this colorful plant as both an attractive ornamental, and a delicious edible.
Looking for something on the sweeter side? A few of our favorite bloggers share some of their ideas for using the healthy grain below.
Time for breakfast! Annie at Kitchen Window Clovers suggests an uncomplicated breakfast of popped amaranth with strawberries and honey.
Trust us, this simple cereal tastes even better when it’s home-grown. Annie also shares her tips for popping amaranth, if you’re attempting your first go at it.
You’ll find the recipe at Kitchen Window Clovers.
White Chocolate Macadamia Oatmeal Cookies
A lunch-box diner’s dream, you’ll be met with squeals of delight when the kids (or adults bringing lunch to work) find out that you packed these cookies for dessert.
White chocolate and macadamia nuts are a classic combo, folded into an oat and amaranth batter spiced with cardamom and cinnamon. So, so good… Don’t forget to save a few of these for yourself!
Check out the recipe on Sugar Love Spices.
Chocolate Ganache Cake
This dairy- and gluten-free ganache cake is made with dark chocolate, almond milk, coconut oil, flax meal, and amaranth flour, so it’s full of healthy protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Served with dried goji berries and a dusting of powdered sugar on top, you’ll love the rich, chocolatey flavor of this dessert.
Get the recipe now, from Kitchen Window Clovers.
Maple Spiced Apple and Raisin Galette
Perfect for fall, this tart Granny Smith apple galette has an amaranth and all-purpose flour crust that can be swapped out for Cup 4 Cup to make it gluten free.
Oh and in case you weren’t sold on those raisins – they’re soaked in Grand Marnier. Yum!
Get the recipe now from Loreto and Nicoletta at Sugar Love Spices.
If you need a large, showstopping, bushy plant to fill a spot along a fence or wall, love lies bleeding may be an ideal option.
If you’re really industrious, you might want to gather the seeds and pop them up for your next family movie night. Wouldn’t that surprise the kids?
Do you have any experience with this exotic beauty? Share your tips and tricks in the comments section below, and be sure to check out our article about small globe thistle, another plant with an unusual flower.
Product photos via Serendipity Seeds, and NIKITOVKASeeds. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Recipe photos used with permission. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.