Today we are glad to present you our new material, prepared on the basis of the extensive work of the Doctor of Agricultural Sciences AV Zheleznova. It was published in the journal Chemistry and Life XXI Century, No. 6, 2005. The original title of the article is “Amaranth: bread, spectacle, medicine”. This article opens a series of articles based on the research of Anatoly Zheleznova. Aztec and Amaranth.
We hope the article will help you discover new sides of a relatively famous plant. After all, as the doctor wrote in the article, amaranth is not yet a very well-known plant, although in many countries of the world it is quite common. Amaranth is used in several areas:
- cooking food;
- animal feed preparation;
- getting medicine and cosmetics;
- and some others.
It contains a large variety of nutrients. By their number, the plant surpasses many other cultures. And amaranth is a good ornamental plant. He is able to become a real decoration of the garden.
And now about the story
We have already written quite a bit about the history of amaranth – common myths were quoted, then debunked them. What does the doctor of agricultural sciences A.V. write about the history of the origin and distribution of this culture? Zheleznov? Let’s read.
“… originates from South America, where the largest number of its species, varieties and forms grows. In the mountains of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, amaranth caudate (Amaranthus caudatus) is widespread. From there it was brought to North America, India and other places. Nowadays, many representatives of the genus live in Northern India and China, which gives the right to speak of these areas as the secondary centers of the formation of the plant …. “
Amaranth crimson grew in the mountainous regions of Mexico – from these regions it spread throughout the world. Although for a long time he was known as amaranth paniculata. Another plant variety – sad amaranth – most likely also began its history in the Mexican mountains.
But a number of plants today are common (this is Amaranthus dubius, Amaranthus hybridus, Amaranthus lividus, Amaranthus tricolor) in the following regions and countries:
- in India;
- in China;
- in African states;
- in some areas of Southeast Asia.
According to A.V. Zheleznov – from where and how the listed species appeared, science failed to establish. But, most likely, they were also imported from Latin America and are direct relatives of the three main types – paniculate, crimson and sad.
Amaranth, as part of the culture of the ancient Indian tribes
Anatoly Valentinovich touched the history of amaranth. He points out that this is a rather ancient culture that for 8000 years fed the indigenous people of South and Central America. In particular, we are talking about such tribes as: Amaranth of the Incas
- the Incas;
- the Aztecs.
Perhaps, the doctor of agricultural sciences admits the assumption that it was thanks to amaranth that their developed civilizations were formed. After all, these peoples knew a lot, beyond the control of people from other parts of the planet:
- writing and mathematics;
- architectural knowledge;
- agriculture, including – irrigated agriculture;
- astronomy and more.
All this had a positive effect on the number of Indian peoples. So, for example, in the same Aztec in the 13th century, only the regular army numbered 150 thousand soldiers! At that time – this is a huge power. To feed it, crops are needed that are capable of providing a regular, stable harvest, even in cases of natural disasters.
It is possible to get a fairly accurate picture of the volumes of the harvest obtained, based on documentary facts. In the course of research, historians managed to establish that each year more than 20 thousand tons of amaranth grain and another 23 thousand tons of beans and almost 30 thousand tons of corn grain were transferred to the emperor Montezuma. As you can see, amaranth was one of the main cultures of the Aztecs. For this he was called as “Aztec wheat” or “Inca bread.”
Data from archaeologists: what did you manage to establish as a result of excavations?
Naturally, a great contribution to the study of the history of amaranth was made by archaeologists. They conducted excavations of ancient Indian cities located in the central part of Mexico. As a result of such excavations, it was found that amaranth was used as a cultivated plant since ancient times. Indians
For example, in Tikhuansky caves, archaeologists found the remains of seeds of cultivated varieties of amaranth. According to scientists – the age of these seeds is more than 5,500 years.
There is a version that amaranth and maize hit the territory of modern China as far back as the 1st millennium BC. e. Since, according to some data obtained during archaeological research, the link between China and Mexico was established in the VII-VIII centuries. BC e.
Therefore, it is likely that it was from China that the amaranth spread to other regions of the planet:
In this case, it is argued that, most likely, in the listed regions, amaranth was entered by man as a weed of arable land.
Amaranth and conquistadors: the struggle of the Spanish conquerors with the plant
Conquistadors who came to conquer Latin America under the leadership of Cortez, noticed that the local population uses the plant not only as food. Amaranth was actively used for religious purposes. Here is what Anatoly Valentinovich writes in his article:
“It was believed that its bright red flowers raise morale and help young soldiers not to be afraid of blood. On the day of the holiday, the warriors painted their bodies with red paint obtained from amaranth, and the ground grain was mixed with honey and blood of prisoners and from the resulting mass they sculpted the figures of enemies, which they then ate. Apparently, having learned about such rituals, the Inquisition declared this plant devilish and ordered to eradicate it. After that, the main amaranth crops were destroyed, the population of cities and villages began to die of hunger. ”
Amaranth crops, after active destruction by conquistadors, were preserved only in the mountain settlements that were difficult of access for the conquerors. Spanish colonizers began to use corn and beans as cultivated plants, abandoning amaranth. Only then that they were not used in religious rituals.
After that, it was relatively oblivion of amaranth …
Amaranth in Europe and other regions
But thanks to the Spaniards amaranth was introduced to European countries. There it was used only for some time as an ornamental plant – bright and beautiful flowers became the decoration of Spanish gardens. It was only at the beginning of the 18th century that amaranth was grown on European fields, as a cultivated plant, for the production of cereals and fodder for domestic poultry. Amaranth research in Guatemala
However, all the same, amaranth has not spread. Probably the reason for this was that the plant literally littered arable land. In addition, its individual species pereopylili with each other, which led to the loss of its cultural value.
But in the Asian region, amaranth quickly gained popularity among ethnic groups living in mountain regions:
Interesting conclusions about the effect of amaranth on the life of Indians can be made only by its name. So, in India two names were adopted:
- Raigira – translated as “royal grain”;
- Ramdana – translated as “grain sent by the gods.”
Here they began to make sweets out of it. Heated in a pan until the grains exploded like corn, and then mixed with honey, spices and other sweets. It was a nutritious and delicious dessert.
Amaranth products derived from grain, to your taste resemble nuts. They have a pleasant, light nutty aftertaste. Plus, they are quite nutritious.
By the way, as Anatoly Zheleznov writes, it is in Asian countries that amaranth greens, especially its young shoots, were first used for food as vegetables.
A new round of amaranth development: how the plant returned from history and became the product of the future
In fact, for almost 200 years, amaranth was in oblivion. Despite the fact that it continued to be cultivated in the mountain settlements of Asia and Central America, for most people on the planet the plant was a mystery.
Only in 1972 amaranth started talking again. He became interesting to modern humanity. This interest was fueled by the physiologist John Downton, who worked at the National University of Australia. It was he who established that the amaranth protein is present in a large amount of a unique amino acid, which is indispensable for the human body, lysine.
Since then, amaranth fell under the gun of scientists. He is actively studied. First of all, in Western universities. In particular, in the United States of America, the Department of Agriculture has been conducting ongoing research on amaranth since 1975.
Experts, scientists have found that the grains and greens of amaranth have increased nutritional value. And the plant itself is characterized by such qualities as:
- high yield;
- drought resistance;
- active rapid growth;
- and much more.
Many US scientists are confident that amaranth will be able to compete with such recognized favorites among cultivated plants as wheat and maize.
One of the main centers of the United States, where amaranth research is actively conducted, is the Rochdale Research Center. It is here that scientists work to ensure the maintenance of the gene pool of the world diversity of the genus Amaranthus.
This center has achieved great results in the study of amaranth. For example, it was here that thousands of different plant hybrids were obtained. What makes it possible to create new varieties of amaranth:
- short stem;
- resistant to lodging;
- with increased yield;
- not showered after ripening seeds.
Interestingly, in the former Soviet Union, the first studies of amaranth were carried out almost half a century earlier — as far back as the 1930s, the well-known academician N.I. Vavilov.
Vavilov collected the largest collection of plant seeds and strongly recommended to study it, but also to introduce it into agricultural production. But at that time in our science there was a fierce struggle with the “false scientists” and their ideas. Amaranth was declared a malicious weed, “with the help of which the agents of imperialism plot to destroy the collective-farm fields,” and scientists were accused of sabotage. And only at the end of the 20th century, the amaranth came out of the shadow of misunderstanding.
Also amaranth was actively investigated in many scientific institutions of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. He received a certain distribution. Began to appear new varieties and hybrids, characterized by high yield.