FlowerMuse: Amaranthus hypochondriacus (Prince Harry)

Prince Harry’s recent confession that he is not really interested in a life of royal duties (and nearly renounced his title) has generated gobsmacked headlines a-plenty. Harry obviously has some things he wants to get off his chest, which we can empathize with, but his steady stream of angst (from mental health issues to long-standing upsets about the arrangement for his mother’s funeral)  is starting to feel like over-sharing.  We don’t have a problem with his desire for honesty and openness but there’s a time and a place – at home with his therapist and friends.  Hearing a pampered Prince speak too much of his hurts sounds, at best, like whinging.  The rest of us really have far greater problems in our own lives/society, to worry too much about him.

It sounds like Harry needs to reacquaint himself with his heritage (the reason for his enormous inheritance) and find a cause (to inspire himself and the less fortunate)…

There’s a plant that might help him find his mojo; Amaranthus hypochondriacus (oh, the irony) also known as Prince’s Feather (and Gentleman’s Cane). With striking spikes of red flower, deeply-veined spear-shaped leaves and hairy stems; it’s the show-off of the garden border.

 

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From the Greek amarantos meaning “one that never withers” or  never-fading flower, the Amaranth, steeped in history but with an eye firmly on the future,  has the perfect properties for a Prince in need of a purpose;

 

 

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Super-sacred:   In Ancient Greece the Amaranth flower was a symbol of immortality – because it retains it’s freshness for a long time after being picked.  It was also thought to have special healing properties, and so was considered sacred.  A common practice was to spread the flowers over graves and to decorate tombs.

 

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Super-Human: Amaranth was cultivated by the Aztecs about 6,000-8,000 years ago as a staple food. They thought that it gave them supernatural powers and so incorporated it into their religious ceremonies. They made statues of their gods using amaranth (huautli)  and honey (and possibly human blood) which were worshipped, then eaten as food.  But when the Spanish arrived with Cortes in 1519, the practice was seen as barbaric and a mockery of Christian communion and so forbidden. Amaranth fields were burned and the cultivators were punished, even condemned to death.

 

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Super-Food: It wasn’t until the 1970s that Amaranth was re- discovered in Mexico and cultivated again from wild varieties. Rich in vitamins and minerals, Amaranth is now grown for its leaves, which are used in salads or cooked like spinach, and seeds. The seeds are tiny, golden, and round. They can be sprouted, popped, toasted, or cooked to make cereal. Today it’s mixed with chocolate or rice as a popular snack and sold all over Mexico city.

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Amaranth products, Mexico (Al Jazeera)

Move over quinoa, Amaranth is the potential new super-food. It has the highest protein content of any grain and is also known to be high in fibre, potassium, iron, zinc, as well as Vitamins A and D.  Some say it’s ‘the grain of the future’ for its potential to provide protein, vitamins and minerals to people worldwide (especially in Central and South America, China and India).

This fast-growing plant bears purplish red or green, broadly lance-shaped leaves on tall upright stems. Young leaves can be prepared and eaten like spinach. Upright spikes of tiny red, mahogany, or greenish flowers appear at the stem tips and in the leaf axils in summer and fall. They work wonderfully in fresh or dried flower arrangements. Plants are monoecious, with both male and female flowers. Female flowers produce round, poppy-sized seeds, as many as 100,000 per plant. The ivory, white, mahogany, or black seeds are rich in proteins and essential amino acids. Fallen seed germinates in spring, making purchase of additional seed unnecessary.

Amaranths like it hot and perform best in full sun and average to poor, well-drained soil. A single plant will produce lots of volunteer seedlings. Just weed out the ones you don’t want. This ornamental is best sown in place in warm soil, but can also be started earlier in a warm greenhouse. Mature plants are drought tolerant but grow and flower better if watered during dry spells. This annual thrives in subtropical and tropical regions.

The amaranth seeds should be harvested when they fall easily from the dried flower heads. Use a sifter to separate the seed from the chaff. Store the seed in sealed containers in a cool dry place.

 

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Super-Medicinal: Amaranth has long been recognized in herbal medicine for it’s astringent (used as a skin wash or gargle) and hemostatic properties (for diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhage from the bowels, nosebleeds, and excessive menstruation).  It’s also hailed for it’s ability to stimulate growth and repair, reduce inflammation, boost bone strength, lower blood pressure, improve the immune system, reduce the appearance of varicose veins, maintain healthy hair, and help weight loss. And even prevent chronic diseases, even cancer!

 

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Super-Seeders: Amaranths like it hot – this annual thrives in full sun. Mature plants are drought tolerant but grow and flower better if watered during dry spells. It prefers higher elevations but can be grown anywhere in the right soil. Upright spikes of tiny red, mahogany, or greenish flowers appear at the stem tips in summer and autumn. These work wonderfully in fresh or dried flower arrangements. Plants are monoecious, with both male and female flowers. Female flowers produce round, poppy-sized seeds, as many as 100,000 per plant. These should be harvested when they fall and stored in sealed containers in a cool dry place. Amarnathus hypochondriacus has become naturalized in subtropical and tropical regions across the world and is considered  invasive (tropical pigweed) in some locations.

 

Yet well I ken the banks where Amaranths blow,

Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.

Bloom, O ye Amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,

For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Work without Hope (1825)

 

 

Featured Image: Financial Times

 

Further reading:

Amaranth Recipes

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