Amaranth (Xian Shi)
Botanical Name: Amaranthus dubius
Amaranth was already being cultivated by the Aztecs 8,000 years ago. Its ancient history is traced back to Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula. It is the only grain with a documented vitamin C content and is gluten-free. In Mexico, a sweet is made from popped amaranth that is mixed with sugar or honey called “dulce de alegria” or “sweet delight.” They are shaped into small skulls and given on the “Day of the Dead” celebration on October 31 and November 1 of each year.
Below is an overview of Amaranth (Xian Shi), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Amaranth (Xian Shi).
Western Name: Amaranth
Also Known As: Pigweed
Organs/Systems: Digestion, Heart, Immunity
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Astringing, Anti-inflammatory, Tonic. Reduces hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke, ulcers, diarrhea, mouth sores, sore throats, lower cholesterol.
Pin Yin: Xian Shi
Also Known As: Xian Ca, Yin Tsai, Chinese Spinach, Red Spinach
Meridians: Lung, Liver, Large Intestine, Bladder
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Dries Damp/Benefits the Lungs: helps clear phelgm, difficult urination, constipation. Clears Liver Fire: constipation, glaucoma, hematuresis, improves eyesight, relaxes the bowels, counters stress, relieves anxiety. Builds Qi: aids digestion, strengthens muscles.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Seeds (the grain), Leaves
Flavors/Temps: Sweet, Bitter, Neutral to Cold
Caution: Very safe.
History/Folklore: Amaranth has been used by the Aztecs as a food and as part of their religious ceremonies for over 8,000 years. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century they burned the crops and forbid them from being cultivated. Thankfully the cultivation of amaranth continued quietly and the plant has survived till today. The Aztecs believed that it gave them supernatural powers and used it in ceremonies involving human sacrifice. Amaranth was mixed with blood, formed into cake-like replicas of their gods and eaten. The conquistadors believed this was a mockery of Christian communion in the Catholic mass and banned the grain, condemning to death anyone who was found growing or possessing amaranth.
Amaranth is sometimes referred to as a “pseudo-cereal” because its nutritional profile is very similar to cereal.
Amaranth is a great source of lysine, an amino acid with a protein content that compares to that of milk, but easier to digest. No other grain can say that. It is high in proteins that are easily digested, high in minerals and contains fewer carbohydrates than most grains. It is 6-10% unsaturated oil and 77% unsaturated fatty acids (including linoleic acid). It is the only grain with a documented vitamin C content. Amaranth has 13 grams of fiber per uncooked cup compared to 2 grams of one cup of long-grain white rice.
Combined with corn the two together become a 100% complete protein source.
Ground amaranth has a beautiful pale ivory color. The red “buds” can be ground as well, giving the ground grain a reddish tinge.
The constituent luasin, found in amaranth is thought to have cancer-preventing properties, as well as reducing the chances of chronic diseases such as inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Amaranth leaves are commonly used in Asian and Caribbean cuisines in stir-fries or chopped and added to soups and stews. The young green leaves can be eaten raw and added to salads. Cooked in soup the red striped leaves will turn your soup a reddish pink color. In China, it is also called “Chinese Spinach” where it is enjoyed as a spinach substitute, however, amaranth leaves have more nutritional value than spinach. The youngest leaves have a milder flavor good for salads and the older leaves are better cooked in soups or stir-fries.
Typical dosage in a decocotion is 6-9 grams. The same amount can also be powdered into capsules.
Amaranth is self seeding and grows easily in many environments making it a grain that could help stem starvation in many areas of the globe. It is also popular as an ornamental plant.
Proteins (Lysine, Albumin, Globulins), Very High in Minerals (RDA 31% Calcium, 82% Iron, Phosphorous and Carotenoids, Manganese (102% of daily value), Rutin, Nicotiflorin, Peptides (particularly Lunasin), 14% of Vitamin C, Fiber.
Amaranth is gluten-free, higher in its mineral content than most vegetables and an excellent source of protein with one cup of the grain containing over 28 grams, compared to 26 grams of protein in oats or 13 grams in rice.
How to Cook Amaranth
Cooking amaranth is like cooking pasta: Boil lots of water (6 cups to 1 cup grain), cook and stir for 15-20 minutes, drain, rinse and enjoy!
Amaranth is an excellent thickener for sauces, soups stews and even, jellies.
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