Sunday, November 02, 2014

Name that Plant: Reddish Stems and Tiny Purple Flowers Edition

Last week, I'm out for a run with Shira at 4 Mile Run Park when we jog by these gorgeous purple flowers:

I snap some pics assuming that an identification will be easy when I get home. Between the fact that I'm usually searching for common "weeds" and the effectiveness of Google Images, it usually only takes a couple of searches to put a name to a plant. This time, however, my Google-fu failed me. No matter what I searched for, I couldn't find a matching photo on the web.

So I did what anyone in my situation would have done. I consulted one of my Rabbis. Turns out, our assistant Rabbi has a degree in environmental studies. I've quizzed him a few times while walking home from shul; he knows his plants. So I shot him the photos and in no time I got my response. I was looking at: Purple Amaranth, which is actually a grain.

Amaranth turns out to be, like all plants, quite interesting. Somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000(!) years ago, the Aztecs domesticated the plant, making it a staple in their diet. And look out quinoa, your days of being a hip and trendy food are numbered, with amaranth ready to take your place. Heck, astronauts have included it in their diet, so it has to be good for you (See also: Tang).

This isn't my first run in with amaranth. I attempted to plant it last season, though I never got beyond tiny sprouts. Given how a mature plant looks, I'm certainly going to try again next year. A plant that looks gorgeous and has food super powers, how can you go wrong?

Thanks Rabbi!

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