Now growing from 30°N to 30°S around the globe, Wild Amaranth (Amaranthus spinosus) originates from the lowland parts of tropical Central and South America. It is a highly valued food, and some of its medicinal benefits are as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relief). Due to its invasiveness our focus is on Spiny Amaranth, but all wild amaranths are edible and can be used interchangeably in with the recipes created for Spiny Amaranth. Hawai’i has 9 of the 70 Amaranthus species, with 1 of those 9 being endemic to Hawai’i and found only on the island of Nihoa.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Wild Amaranth is an herb, growing up to 4.5-5 ft (150cm) which is generally green but can have a red color to the stems and leaves. The stem is round, with sharp double spines at the leaf bases. Leaves are veined with a matte finish, having smooth edges and a simple leaf style. A red or white chevron (inverted V) can sometime appear on the leaves, and both stems and leaves are arranged in an alternate pattern.
You can often spot the male flowers and seed heads from afar, waving at the top of the plants stems tips. Female flowers are found at the leaf bases. Flowers are green and inconspicuous, ripening to small dry seeds the size of a pin head.
There are no poisonous Amaranth species, and all Amaranth species in Hawai’i are edible, however many plants can look like Wild Amaranth to the beginner. Remember, you only need to know all of the details for correctly identifying Wild Amaranth and then all other plants that don’t fit those details are not Wild Amaranth and you should not eat them. Below are some common plants in Hawai’i that are mistaken for Wild Amaranth.
WHERE IT GROWS
Found in disturbed and waste lands, roadsides, gardens, row crops, and pastures.
HOW TO PICK IT
Begin by asking permission. Only take what you will use. Harvest leaves by tearing or pinching off with your fingers, or use scissors. Be very careful for the large double double spines at the leaf bases, and be sure that no spines come off with the leaves. Then, us a pair of gloves to pull the entire plant from its root. Cut off root to eat. Place remaining stem and seeds into a bucket with lid, or a bag of some kind that can be sealed so the seeds don’t spread during transport. Dispose of plant stem and seeds by putting into compost or in a trash bin. Be mindful of any seeds on shoes, stuck to clothing or bags, hats, in your hair or otherwise so that invasive isn’t spread to other areas.
WHEN TO PICK IT
Wild Amaranth grows year round in Hawai’i. Plants can be found in greater abundance during the rainy season, or when growing close to a water source.
Leaves are edible raw or cooked, but most people prefer them as a cooked green. Double check your bag of harvested greens before you prepare them to eat, again making sure no spines have gotten in. Roots and leaves are edible after a 5 minute boil, or raw, and can also be added to fermented vegetable and condiment preparations. Seeds are edible on all amaranths, but Spiny Amaranth seeds can have small hair-like spines that make them difficult to ingest.
TASTE AND SMELL
Leaves smell slightly grassy and have a deep earthy green flavor, sometimes sour with a slight mineral bitterness depending on environmental conditions.
WILD AMARANTH RECIPES