The Amaranthus genus of wild flowering herbs encompasses about 60 species that grow in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. Several of these species, such as the Amaranthus viridis, are sought after by low-budget cooks for use as salad greens, despite the plant being widely considered an invasive weed throughout North America. Widely known as green amaranth, A. viridis can actually be incorporated in various ways into the diet. Some do so for the plant's alleged medicinal properties, while others just like the taste.
In Greece, green amaranth is one of the most popular greens. Called vlita in Crete and horta in the rest of Greece, this plant grows throughout the countryside, in ditches, along the roads, and in many backyard gardens. Along with other common greens like spinach, chicory, endives and chard these can be tossed into salads, sauteed into sauces, or boiled as a side dish like spinach.
In many cultures, this plant is considered a staple of a poor person's diet. One popular but cost-effective preparation for green amaranth is a Greek dish called horta vrasta. This involves boiling the greens until soft in salted water, then seasoning them with a distinctly Mediterranean combination of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. According to the second volume of the book Lost Crops of Africa, by the U.S. National Research Council, green amaranth is the most consumed green throughout not only the economically challenged lowlands of Africa, but also the Caribbean, South and Central Americas and Asia.
Green amaranth has a mildly bitter, but not overpowering, flavor when eaten raw. When boiled or sauteed, however, it has a reputation for a subtle, barely bitter taste and soft texture. The green amaranth from the species Amaranthus tricolor is known throughout the world as Chinese spinach for its regular use in that capacity and a near-identical nutritional makeup. Some even prize the seeds for grain and the stems for snacks.
Aside from the high-vitamin dietary value of amaranth, several medical traditions from Indian Ayurveda to Chinese herbalism respect this green as a healing herb. Many use it as a homeopathic remedy for its astringent qualities as well as its alleged ability to ease digestive problems caused by internal inflammation. In parts of South Africa, breastfeeding women eat the tops off amaranth stems to heighten nutrition as well as to promote the flow of breast milk. It is also used as a so-called vermifuge, which helps the body rid itself of invasive colonies of worms.