Amaranthus viridus – Amaranthus spinosus
PLANT NAME: Amaranthus spp.
SIMILARLY USED SPECIES: A. blitus; A. caudatus; A. dubius; A. edulis; A. hibridus; A. hypochondriacus; A. viridus. Please note that for all practical purposes, A. viridus can be used as a substitiute for A. spinosus. A lot easier on the hands, too, as A. viridus has no spines.
COMMON NAMES: Pakai ( Amaranthus spp.), pakai kükü (A. spinosus) [Hawai'i]; zhi xian, tz’u hsien-ts’ai, [China]; tanduliyah [India] ban lunde [Nepal]; amaranth, spiny amaranth (A. spinosus), red cockscomb, love-lies- bleeding, pigweed [USA]; chiori con espinas [Bolivia]; khichka jat’aqo [Quechua]; mullu keerai, neer keerai, tanduliuyah [India]; gansam lodut, surindi [Borneo]; ntungu [Tanzania].
CATEGORY: Herbs that stop bleeding~.
PROPERTIES: Sweet and bland tasting, astringent, cool.
Plant parts used: Aerial parts
Status: Alien Habitat: Low elevation, disturbed areas.
WESTERN FUNCTIONS REPORTED: Antiemetic; anti-inflammatory; astringent; blood purifier; carminative; diaphoretic; diuretic; emmenagogue; emollient; expectorant; febrifuge; galactogogue; hemostatic; improves digestion; lactogogue; laxative; mucilaginous; promotes appetite; purgative; sudorific.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE ENERGETIC FUNCTIONS (~ = extrapolated):
Clears heat and poison.
PREPARATION OF MEDICINE: Usually decocted or poulticed.
USE AS FOOD: High in protein and calcium. It is used as a food crop by the Aztec Indians of Mexico, as a spinach substitute in Australia, and as a vegetable in China. The seeds can be boiled into a hot cereal. Cook for at least an hour. The young shoots make a very tasty potherb or in salads. While high in calcium, however, amaranth that also contains large amounts of oxalates may actually inhibit calcium absorption [Larsen 2003]. Because it may absorb nitrates from the soil and form oxalate crystals in the leaves, only organic pakai should be used [Elpel 2000].
RANGE: Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Southern Africa. Native to tropical Americas. Accidentally brought into Hawai’i in 1900.
HABITAT: Found in the sun almost everywhere in Hawai’i
GATHERING: Use the young ones… or use gloves. When gathering as food, take the young shoots. Can cause hay fever.
The essential oil of Amaranthus spp. lowers cholesterol in hamsters and the seeds of Amaranthus esculantus lowers cholesterol in rats [Berger 2003; Chaturvedi 1993].
A. caudatus and A. paniculatus seeds are antioxidant [Klimczak 2002].
TOXICITY: Amaranthus retroflexus (not known to grow in Hawai’i) is reportedly nephrotoxic to large domestic animals [Oladosu 1979], although not to rabbits [Schamber 1985]. In China, the roots are said to be mildly toxic and overdose can cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
CAUTIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS: Never treat bleeding without fi rst determining its cause. Not during pregnancy or normal menstruation. Caution with osteoporosis or calcium imbalances~ [Larsen 2003]. See Use As Food below. The genus has been reported to cause dermatitis and photosensitivity. The pollen has been reported to cause keratitis of the eye.
The family amaranthaceae includes more than 900 species in 60 genera.
Most amaranths photosynthesize using a different method than some other plants. Called the “C4 carbon- fi xation pathway,” it is a mechanism best suited for sunny areas.
A. spinosus and A. viridus are used almost interchangeably, with A. viridus preferred as it has no spines. • Astringent for the mucous membranes
Up to 66% of weed species are said to be edible. While “edible” and “digestible” may not always be the same thing, young A. viridus and A. spinosus are definitely both.