"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

You know you're obsessed with food when it keeps you awake at night. I tossed and turned most of last night with a racing mind contemplating all of the new things I want to try in next year's food garden. Sometimes my mind is so abuzz with crazy thoughts and ideas that it's impossible for me to catch even a wink of sleep. I have to remind myself to stay focused on this year and save thoughts of the next for those impending winter months that will soon be upon us.

One of the plants that has been on my mind of late is the Hopi Red Dye Amaranth that we are growing solely for its seed this year with the hope of raising it as a viable grain source next summer. The flowers of this type of amaranth were used by Hopi Indians as a source of red dye. Seeds or grain of various amaranth are much higher in protein (12-17%) than most other grains making it a valuable source of nutrition. Along with our Hopi seeds I will hopefully be able to purchase Orange Giant, an amaranth that reportedly puts out almost a pound of seed per plant and maybe one other type - Plainsman a short season productive variety that I am still researching.

Our goal is to grow enough to make a more traditional Mexican tortilla in place of the wheat ones we now consume, that and homemade pasta. The grain can even be popped (a couple tablespoons at a time so as not to burn it) like popcorn causing the grain to expand to about five times its size. Popped, it can then be eaten as a cold cereal or cooked without popping for a hot cereal. The seeds, like flax, can be used as a thickening agent for certain soups and stews and the young leaves added to salads bring nutrition and color to the plate. We are even thinking of using it to make some sort of homemade power bar using honey and dried fruit...stay tuned.

Next year we will dedicate a couple 4x60' rows to this plant as a test to see just how much grain can be produced. In addition to being a precious food source its beauty alone is beyond compare. The red tassels will even grow back if you are lucky enough to be able harvest the seed early on.

A closeup of this morning's popped amaranth


granny said...

Your so interesting Mr H ! You are a wealth of knowledge,thanks for sharing it :0)

Steve and Paula said...

Goodness! Thank you for the info!
I am going to research it and see if its growable up here.

Roasted Garlicious said...

okay okay... we must be twins.. already i'm thinking what i'm going to grow next year.. or perhaps we're just obsessed?? i've often wanted to try growing amaranth, perhaps next year if i get new and bigger raised bed!!

Naomi said...

I will be very interested to follow what you do with the amaranth - I'm considering doing some small scale grain growing next year, and am looking at what is suitable for here. Amaranth was one possibility!

randi said...

hey mike, I've been growing lots of different amaranths for years and saving the seed because I liked looking at them..the whole popping thing is pretty cool. I knew people ate amaranths but never explored it further. No kidding, you really are a resource!

Chiot's Run said...

Very cool, I'd love to grow some. I tried quinoa this year, but it didn't do all that well.

Julie said...

Can you tell us your seed source for this plant. I am always interested in natural dye plants, (and food plants of course.)

Ruralrose said...

i have never seen it popped before, i grow it to feed my chickens in winter, please let us know how the tortilla works out - i love your posts because you are doing what you say - peace for all

Ruralrose said...

ps thanks for your offer to help me identify my wild food, i do garden, but i do harvest as much wild as i can identify, ain't nature grand, so happy to have a link to your subsistence pattern , peace for all

Rick said...

Love the idea of alternate grains. Last year I grew some "Hot Biscuits" amaranth and was a little under whelmed by the seed output. I originally planned to use the seed as an adjunct to chicken feed. But I like the idea of puffing it and using it in the kitchen instead. May have to plant some more next year as well.

Mr. H. said...

Granny - Thanks, that is the nice thing about these blogs, it allows us all an opportunity to share with people all over the world that have similar interests...how great is that.

Paula - It's a pretty hardy plant although not very cold tolerant. I'm not sure how well it would perform in your neck of the woods.

Roasted Garlicious - I'm glad to hear there are others as obsessed about gardening:) Amaranth is worth growing for the foliage alone.

Naomi - We have been experimenting with several grains over the years, so far flax and hard red spring wheat have been the most successful for us.

Randi - The popped amaranth is still pretty darn small and is hard to pop without burning unless you do a little at time. It has a very nice flavor when popped though. Next year will be the real test on whether or not it is a practical source of food in a small scale food garden.

Susy - We tried growing quinoa last year and ours never did amount to anything either...perhaps I will give it another shot next summer.

Julie - I originally purchased my seed from Wild Garden Seed and have also had good luck with Bountiful Gardens when purchasing grains.

Ruralrose - Nature is indeed grand, I think that some of the most healthy foods that can be eaten are those that grow wild all around us...Like the common dandelion. We are having some with our dinner tonight.:)

Mr. H. said...


Those birds do through a lot of grain don't they. One of our future goals is to plant enough of a mix of corn, wheat, and perhaps some hulless oats in our bottom field to feed the chickens and us. First I have to deal with the water and fencing issues associated with that task....soon I hope.

Jo said...

Beautiful plant and beautiful seed too. Looks like I have to do some research on amaranth.

Do you use any machinery in your garden? I have given some thought to growing grains but I'm intimidated by the work involved. We don't have any machinery, and I don't know how to plant or harvest grain by hand.

Thank you for all your great info. I get all sorts of new ideas when I read your posts.

Stefaneener said...

Serious coolness, dude!
Can you tell I grew up in Southern California? I had planned to grow quinoa this year and just didn't get to it -- now I'm going to try it again next year, so I'm even obsessing a year in advance!!

I keep thinking I should be writing notes. . .sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. One year I'll be more caught up, that's for sure.

Mr. H. said...


We do everything by hand, any grains we raise are strictly small scale in nature. Hulless oats, wheat, flax, and amaranth can all be easily threshed by hand and then winnowed to remove the debris.

There really is not much to it, flax is an excellent grain to start with because it can so easily be removed by hand. It just takes a little time.

If you ever decide to raise a little grain and want some advice take a look at the abook "Small Scale Grain Raising", It is an excellent source of information that will help you get a handle on growing various grains and the effort involved in processing them. This book can be veiwed online at



Mr. H. said...


Amaranth is totally awesome...like Duh. Can you tell I watched to many 1980's teen movies growing up? What-ever!:)

You will like they way Amaranth looks and I may also give quinoa (I have the hardest time spelling that word) a try next year. Way cool...for sure!

Yeah, I'm no poser.

LynnS said...

Red cornbread would be really odd to look at, but I'm sure it would be fantastic.

Are you worried about seed-invasion? I've grown that and a purple mixed in some flower gardens -- just to try. I was scared that I'd have volunteers everywhere so I did not replant the following year. I did a Google search and found that it does re-seed very easily and unless I dedicated an area maybe away from the main vege garden, I'd be up at night worrying about an amaranth takeover.

See--You're not the only one who gets wired up when it's night-time. All of us eccentric types have our quirks and passions....

I would like to see some hand-dyed red wool or cotton from your plants, so how 'bout it? (Know what the Hopi mordant was????)

Mr. H. said...


We are growing painted mountain and blue jade corn for corn meal, I'm not sure but assume it will have an off color. I am open to multi colored foods and would gladly eat red cornbread...and people wonder why we never have any dinner guests.:)

Amaranth does readily re-seed itself, and we did have to weed it out in some areas of the garden, but than we have the same issue with Kale, strawberry spinach, tomatoes, tomatillos, and chicory as well. One of these years I am going to save out a section of the garden and plant nothing, just nurture the volunteers that come up...just to see.

On hand died red wool, well lets just say that I do plan on making my own clothes someday...but it's still way, way down on my list of things to learn...right after basket weaving. Honestly, if it's part of the whole self sufficient thing, and that is, I'm game.

Ah Lynn, always the teacher. I must admit I did not even know what the term "mordant" meant...but I do now.

Here is a list of Hopie mordants, also known as substances used to set or fix dyes, #8 should be easy enough to obtain:

Hopi mordants (Colton 1965: 14):

1. Crude native alum from efflorescence of drying soil.

2. Limonite from Chinle or Mancos shale.

3. Rock salt from Zuni Salt Lake or Grand Canyon.

4. Copper carbonate from copper ore from Verde Valley.

5. Cream-of-tartar, potassium tartarate.

6. Tannic acid from sumac (Rhus trilobata) berries, branches or leaves.

7. Lye made from wood ashes.

8. Human urine.

9. Sheep manure and water, filtered.

10. Smoke.

11. Iron tannate soot produced by burning pinyon gum with native ochre.

12. "Potato Clay.” This is a nickeliferous talc containing a small amount of aluminum.

By the way, thanks for posting about using food processor or blender to help make tomato sauce...that little tip has saved me a lot of time of late.:)

LynnS said...

Yes #8....you got it right! ;-)

I've been a hand-dyer for years and most of the issues I now have with dyeing are due to the mordants. Alum is safe enough, but many of them are not. Unfortunately, without having a mordant to hold dye in the fibers, any thread or cloth will fade with washing, wear, and exposure to light.

Basketweaving -- something on my own list too, mostly because I need a few large harvest baskets (flat bottom ones). I'm thinking oak splints but first we have to tackle the next project -- making a log splitter. We'll document the process for a DIY for others.

Mr. H. said...


I knew it would be #8.:)

We were thinking of trying to make a few homemade baskets for our onions this winter. I look forward to reading your future posts regarding this endeavour.

Shailaja said...

I found this post very interesting. We grow a lot of red amaranthus here in Goa on the west coast of India but only for the greens (rather reds!:)) The leaves are a much deeper shade of red than yours.We don't let the plant go to seed! I must try popping some seeds and see how they taste.
What will you do with all the leaves, I wonder. Three handfuls of finely chopped leaves, Half a shallot chopped, a small chili minced, and half-a-teaspoon of cumin seeds-- all stir-fried in a teaspoon of olive oil and salt to taste. Garnishing it with fresh or desiccated coconut is optional, but makes the dish more appetising. Makes a lovely accompaniment to corn bread and lentil soup! Try it.

Mr. H. said...


I will try that, it sounds really good. We sometimes use the leaves in our salads but I have never cooked with them. Thanks for the great idea.

If you try popping the seeds remember to only pop a few scoops at a time otherwise they tend to burn rather than pop.


Anonymous said...

i grew hopi red dye amaranth from Seeds of Change...got a great crop this summer, harvested the seed/flower heads, made a dye bath, mordanted with alum, now cotton sheeting is in dye bath and it's only a beige brown...no "red" as i'd hoped.

Mr. H. said...


That's to bad, everything I have read says it should produce a deep red dye. Perhaps it depends upon the type of mordant used.

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