Finding edible plants to grow in the summer garden can be a real challenge. Turning to some of the less well-known vegetables can be just what Florida gardeners need to keep their edible gardens producing through the summer heat.
Amaranth is a leafy green that can hold up in the heat of Florida's summers. There are several cultivated species in the Amaranthus genus which are all collectively called amaranths. Tampala, hon-toi-moi, bush greens, pigweed, and Chinese spinach are some of the names for the individual types of amaranths. In Florida, you will also hear it referred to as callaloo, as it's closely associated with the Caribbean dish callaloo. Leaf shapes and color vary considerably; some are red, others green, and some are variegated (usually with purplish patterns on green leaves).
When planting, directly broadcast seeds and then thin the seedlings to 3 inches apart. You can eat the young seedlings you have thinned out, as well as mature leaves. Amaranth is killed off by cold weather, so plant during the warm months.
Many amaranth species grow vigorously in Florida gardens. The green-leaved tampala is one that can thrive in your edible garden. A. gangeticus L. is commonly cultivated and eaten as boiled greens. This species is an upright, branched annual with green or red leaves, depending on the variety. Young leaves and shoot tips are eaten between 3 to 6 weeks after seeds are sown. Some amaranth species produce an edible seed head that forms a fuzzy spikelet. When heated, the seeds can burst like popcorn.
Amaranthus caudatus (Amaranthus edulis, syn) is a grain amaranth that is exceptionally high in lysine, a critical amino acid that is often not found in plants. For this reason, some people—particularly vegetarians—incorporate it into their diets. Most commonly, grain amaranth is ground into flour to make breads, noodles, pancakes, cereals, cookies, and more. Wild amaranth is edible but not as reliably tasty as cultivated varieties.
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A Note on Names
You may notice some sources refer to the same species of amaranths by different botanical names. The Atlas of Florida Plants accepts Amaranthus caudatus (and treats Amaranthus edulis as a synonym); we generally try to follow the Atlas, since this is the most comprehensive and accessible source on plants that are native or naturalized in Florida.