Amaranth, Ancient Grain with a Bloody History

Aug_Amaranth_092114The Aztec religion demanded human sacrifices.

This grain was sometimes mixed with human blood for ritual purposes. The innocent plant’s association with this practice contributed to its near-disappearance.

The Aztec Empire ruled in Mexico from around 1300 A.D. to 1521 A.D. when Hernán Cortés arrived with Spanish soldiers, swords, and an accidental case of smallpox—all of which combined to conquer the native population.

Fortunately, a few good souls understood that it was the blood ritual, not the plant, that needed to become extinct.

My interest in this grain is as potential stock feed. Without irrigation, our land lacks pasturage. I’m exploring low-water-usage and heat-resistant options, hoping to reduce the feed bill.

Amaranth can also be sown between garden rows in the summer to shade more vulnerable plants and cool the soil.

As the prolific seed heads mature, the plant begins to sag from its heavy burden. It’s important to harvest before the seeds shatter in the garden rows (plant drops them).

Read more about growing amaranth in my book, Baskets for Butterflies.

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