Articles, Blog

Amaranth | Volunteer Gardener

November 7, 2019

[Julie Berbiglia] Today we’re at
the Tennessee State University Research Farm, where we’re
looking at this ancient Mexican crop that we call amaranth. Now this is a fantastically
beautiful crop, but it has all kinds of
agricultural significance. Now, Dr. Blair, tell me
a little about amaranth and why we should love it, besides the fact it’s beautiful. – Of course. It comes
in a variety of colors and that makes it almost
an ornamental crop, but it is actually one
of the pseudo-grains. It’s different than cereal
in that it has no gluten, but it is hugely high in protein. And that protein means that
it is very good for you, it really is the next quinoa. Quinoa has become popular
with a lot of shoppers that are going to more
vegetarian lifestyles. And if you use amaranth, I assure you it will be just as good as the quinoa, and it’s a new crop for Tennessee. – [Julie] Well, you
all are doing something really special down here where
you’re doing some trials. – [Dr. Blair] Right, what we
have got here is diversity of the crop collected by the
US Department of Agriculture, and they have always trialed them in Iowa, and this is the first time
that we’re looking at them in Tennessee. And that is why you can
see so much diversity in the flower color, from yellow
to pink to orange and red. And even purple. – [Julie] And I know that
you have some that are small and some that are tall. Are there different agricultural
benefits of the sizes? – Yeah, that’s definitely true. This is a good crop for
the home gardener because you can transplant it
and then it will grow into one of these medium-sized
plants, or it will grow into one of the giants that we see. Julie, we have a deep purple amaranth, and one of the incredible
things about this is that this produces a pigment that is very good for people’s health, and it
can make your iced tea purple. So it has a water-soluble
tinge that will come out in the tea when you either
brew it or put it in the sun, and it will be a bright
red, reddish purple. It’s all due to the substance
which is called betalains, and it is in these seed heads. So not only can you use
the grain, but you can use the flower and you can use, in some cases, the leaves for cooking vegetables. – [Julie] Well, while you
were talking about that color, this reminds me of beets. – [Dr. Blair] Uh-huh, that’s correct because this is actually
from the beet family. So it is unique in being like
the beet, very good for you, full of antioxidants and also having these beautiful colors. – Where exactly are we going
to be finding the grains? And what is the harvesting
procedure for it? – Okay, so right now, you can buy small packages, usually
from Native Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange has it online. They have a limited number of varieties, so you won’t see all the
diversity that we have here with some of the pink
varieties and some of the yellow varieties, some of the orange. Actually, there’s three
species related to amaranths, and so those species are diverse enough that they cover a lot of the US in terms of growing and dry conditions, or growing in rainy conditions
like the summer we’ve had. So the basic place to get
the seed lots is small amount and then save a little bit
of your own seed, I’d say. The seed heads can be crushed
to get the small seed out and then it can be
winnowed by just removing some of the chaff, and then
you have the nice seed there. And that seed, when it
is dry, will actually pop so you can see seed on both sides. – Well, Dr. Blair, I often
think of amaranth as being this very, very tall plant,
similar to this corn that’s behind us. But I’m seeing a lot of
different varieties here. – For sure. So as we were talking
about, Seed Savers Exchange, that great organization that provides seed for American Heritage
Plants, they provided us with a trial that we can
do with multiple rows, and that is what we have got shown here with this nice orange variety,
another purple variety and several others. And you can see that they vary in size. They vary, some are tall
and some are rather short. And we’ve brought this as
a project for Ranjita Thapa who is from Nepal,
which actually currently holds the number one spot in producing amaranth in the world. – Well tell us a little bit
about that student project. – Well, now I’m doing genetic diversity analysis using markers, and we see some morphological
characteristics. By analyzing the morphological differences among different genotypes,
we can see the variation among the different genotypes
in terms of leaf color, inflorescence size, inflorescence color, then height of the plant so that later, for further breeding purpose,
we can select the best variety among them to produce a
high (mumbles) amaranth. – Wow, so amaranth is going
to be a very important crop in a lot of places in the world. – [Dr. Blair] Not only
can it produce the seed, it can also be used for forage and… – [Ranjita] Leafy vegetables. – And leafy vegetables. So this is a multi-purpose crop. – And even the seeds are gluten-free. So in terms of nutrition, it’s very good compared to other grains. – So you have a gluten-free
grain, you have a leafy crop and you have something that
animals could eat as well? – And you have high
protein for those people that are looking for a substitute to the high-starch cereals like rice and bread, wheat and even corn. So compared to the corn that
we have in the background, here we have a new crop
that grows on poor soils, grows under drought conditions and is a crop of the future. – [Julie] Well, Dr. Blair,
I’m seeing here a couple of different kinds of amaranth,
and they’re much shorter. So this must be part
of your trial gardens. – Correct, this is actually
a really novel experiment because it is the
semi-dwarf type of amaranth. And semi-dwarfs have been
the key to mechanization of almost every crop. So it used to be that our
wheats, our rice, our barleys grew very tall and
people hand sickled them. But then when machines came
along, they needed short plants. So this is an experiment that we’re doing with Iowa State University, and it is a very special type of amaranth because it only grows about
two and half feet tall. – [Julie] Well, in this
case, I’m seeing the thicker amaranth down there, and
then also, this one here with the multi-branches on it. – [Dr. Blair] That’s the
greatest part about this, is that if it has multi-branches,
it is more resistant to lodging, which is
falling over with the rain. – [Julie] So this plant here,
if I had about an acre of it, what am I going to be
getting out of there? – [Dr. Blair] So you’d probably
be getting about two tons. So that’d be 2000 pounds of grain, and that grain can be popped. So it can be used for
desserts, it can be used for just regular cooking, it
can be used in breads, it can be ground down as a
flour and then substitute for all your pastries
and desserts as well. – [Julie] Wow, fantastic. And then also, if I
had, oh, I guess, what, chickens, maybe pigs that
could eat the rest of it? – [Dr. Blair] Yeah, that is
one of the main benefits, is that pigs do not mind
eating the nice, soft leaves, and chickens will peck at the grain. So it’s a great backyard crop for now. – [Julie] Fantastic. And I guess what you’re
finding out here really, is just how well adapted it’s going to be to these hotter areas? – [Dr. Blair] Well, one thing that it has is a special metabolism
that is unique among the two-leaf, non-grass species, which is that it is a highly
efficient photosynthesis that is unique among the
dicotyledonous plants. So basically, compared to
beans and compared to carrots, compared to tomatoes, this
can produce a lot more biomass than those other plants. So that is why it really will
be the crop of the future for high temperature and for, perhaps, less rain. And we know that with climate
change, we need to adapt, so we need to think about
diversity in new crops. Luckily, the Mexicans developed
this and they developed it as perhaps maybe the fourth
sister after the three sisters that we’re all familiar
with, corn, maze and gourds. And this was really something
that supplemented their diets in the past and could come back to help us in modern-day agriculture. These fields that you have seen so far have never been sprayed
for any of the insects, and that is one of our
breeding goals, is to look at what kind of diseases
might come to the plants and how well each variety
resists that disease or that insect pest. – [Julie] Well, these
trial gardens are certainly very important for home gardeners
and for farmers as well. – [Dr. Blair] It’s a way
to introduce new varieties. And especially with new crops,
you really need to start from scratch, hopefully
releasing a variety either with Iowa State, as we
have seen for these varieties, that are short; or some
of the taller varieties that are with the USDA. We can do a good job in terms of selecting a crop for the future,
varieties for the future. – [Julie] Well, thank you so
much for having us out here to see the research farm and to see what our new favorite crop will be. – [Dr. Blair] Great. Thank you, Julie.


  • Reply Lab Cat August 21, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you for posting these videos online. I often want to rewatch segments when I watch your show on Thursday.

  • Reply James Berbiglia September 1, 2015 at 2:24 am

    Excellent video with Julie Berbiglia, my favorite gardener! Thanks for introducing me to Amaranth.

  • Reply YAHAYA DAMBA September 3, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Go TSU !! that graduate student was brilliant

  • Reply Fun and Frugality in the Pacific Northwest September 6, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Thank you for sharing! Please share more!!

  • Reply arturo zons June 26, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    in fact Amaranto, as is known in México, is one variety as quinoa is too, has been used from centuries, it has a high nutritional value, is one of the plants grown on space by NASA, quinoa is more famous, guess what amaranto is cheaper and has same properties as quinoa, you can eat not only dry popped seeds as popcorns but green too, and steamed leaves or even like a soup

  • Reply GOH BOMBA June 14, 2017 at 3:37 am

    Wow like it a lot and I stir fry it yummy as a vegan food

  • Reply MAJOW STAR January 3, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Crazy amaranth stash

  • Reply Clifton Hicks April 3, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for sharing, I would gladly support any organic amaranth crops!

  • Reply Israel Wore August 31, 2018 at 6:04 am

    Very informative

  • Reply Chevelshepherdsuperfan October 15, 2018 at 10:23 am

    2 tons is 4,000 lb
    Not 2,000 lol

  • Reply colas rooftop February 12, 2019 at 6:44 am

    3 species of Amaranthus? You’re kidding, there are more than 60

  • Reply Aire Lao July 23, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks, I love the leaves just stir fry

  • Reply Queen Elcene August 3, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    Thank you for putting the TRUTH back into the World, for us to re-discover and re-learn, one FACT at a time. My mother was brilliant, and a natural teacher. Back in the '70's, I read about this amazing, high-protein "weed", that hippies were bringing back to the table. When I asked Mom about it, she told me what she'd been taught: ' oh, that's horrible! That plant was used by the savages of Mexico, the Azteca, who used it during blood rituals of human sacrifice!'
    I never doubted my mom and let it drop. In my continuing journey of uncovering truth, I now know that Spanish destroyers, lied more often than not, as an excuse and justification for killing off, and stealing from, the Peoples, that they supposedly "saved".
    I'm heart-sore, for us all, who were fed those lies… instead of being allowed to feast on this remarkable super food.
    Namaste to all who listen with the Soul 🙏

  • Reply Planting The North August 8, 2019 at 4:17 am

    Love it!

  • Reply Anooblikeguy Lol September 26, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    Wow super plant , super food😎

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