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Friday, July 15, 2011
ELEPHANT'S HEAD PLANT - HEALTH BENEFITS AND HOW TO USE
This species of amaranth is not cultivated for its grain as are others in the Amaranthus species, but for its leaves which are a traditional food in Bangladesh. Other amaranths are currently being investigated for their grain for example A. caudatus, A. cruentis and A. hypochondriacus as this is very nutritious, so could help stave off malnutrition in still-developing countries, and also may be a useful biofuel.
There are seeds, of course from the elephant’s head amaranth, (also known as pigweed, Joseph’s coat and a number of other names) and these may be eaten, but the main reason for its cultivation is its leaves which are eaten like spinach. It is said to be a substitute for asparagus. The leaves are rich in vitamin A and contain B-complex vitamins as well as vitamin C. It contains the minerals phosphorous, calcium, iron, manganese and potassium. These make it useful for bones, blood and to help cure anaemia.
The seeds from this plant contain saponins so before it is eaten it should be soaked for 12 hours and then the water should be discarded before they are boiled. They are very gelatinous, and need to be cooked slowly.
The plant is used in traditional medicine in a number of countries, and in China the leaves are used to treat dysentery. The leaves are simmered for a few minutes, then honey is added and this is cooked for a few minutes longer, before it is eaten.
A tisane can be made with a teaspoon of the leaves, chopped then boiled with a cupful of cold water. You should allow the leaves to steep for 10 minutes before straining and drinking.
It is thought that the galactosyl diacylglycosides present in the plant can inhibit the growth of some cancer cells, although more research is currently needed.
Traditionally the plant is used with Cucurbita moschato, winter squash, to stop haemorrhaging after abortions, while a decoction of very old leaves is taken to improve night vision and to strengthen the liver.
It is thought that it may boost the immune system, but more research is needed, and it may also help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
In Jamaica it is used as a salad green, and is believed to have diuretic properties and be useful in cases of oedema. In Ayurvedic medicine it is also used for menstruation problems, and for general weakness, and this makes sense as it contains protein as well as the vitamins and minerals needed in our diets.