In these difficult times, fresh vegetables to provide food and immunity against disease can be scarce as farmers are also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indigenous and cultural foods can be valuable as sources of fibre, nutrients and vitamins, while some also have medicinal value. Many can be grown quite easily at home – seeds can be obtained from elders and neighbours – and some are found as wild plants.
One herb plant that is widely available and grows vigorously and easily, is the amaranth (see garden picture). In Greek, amaranth is defined as a ‘never-fading flower’, in Sanskrit the word ‘amar’ means immortal, while in Tamil/Hindi it is known as ‘keerai/bhaaji or palak’, but it is commonly known in South Africa as misbredie (Afrikaans), marogo, tepe (Sotho), imbuya (Xhosa), and in isiZulu as umfino/utyutu.
Both the green and red leafing varieties of amaranth (Amaranthus) are nutritious, providing plenty of fibre, protein – amaranth leaves provide some African societies with as much as 25% of their daily protein – and micronutrients. Yet this species has received little scientific attention.
Amaranthus has a high concentration of antioxidants and phytosterols so it has been associated with several health benefits, including reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol levels1 and increasing weight loss. The leaves are low in saturated fats and have micronutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin B6, folate, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin C, calcium, iron (29% of RDI), magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.
A curry containing amaranth was a very common vegetable dish my mother and elders in the community used to make. My brother refused to eat it when he was young, calling it ‘wild grass’ but now finds it a rare and delicious treat that is also good for his constipation!
In some cultures the seeds and oil and even the roots are used. The seeds can also be sprouted, roasted and used to flavour rice or mixed with honey to form cakes. While amaranth is indeed an undervalued plant today, it has been used for centuries by the Aztecs, Mexicans, Africans, and Asians.
- Curry Preparation: Young fresh leaves should be cut and added to stews, soups and made into a curry by adding oil, dried chillies (in which, the active compound capsaicin gives its burning sensation and is another rich source of vitamin C and other vitamins), garlic (with anti-inflammatory properties), onions, tomatoes (small amount), and if needed, potatoes.
Disclaimer: This information is based on decades of personal and family use as well as online information and research (cited). It does not represent professional opinion. Consequently precautions need to be taken as some foods may not fit specific health circumstances.
- Professor Nadaraj Govender is involved in Science and Indigenous Knowledge Education in UKZN’s School of Education.
DM Martirosyan; LA Miroshnichenko; SN Kulakova; AV Pogojeva; VI Zoloedov. Amaranth oil application for coronary heart disease and hypertension. Lipids in health and disease 2007, 6 (1), 1.