AMARANTH, or AMARANG (from the Gr. amarantos, unwithering), a name chiefly used in poetry, and applied to certain plants which, from not soon fading, typified immortality. Thus Milton (Paradise Lost, iii. 353) --
- "Immortal amarant, a flower which once
- In paradise, fast by the tree of life,
- Began to bloom; but soon for man's offence
- To heaven removed, where first it grew, there grows,
- And flowers aloft, shading the fount of life,
- And where the river of bliss through midst of heaven
- Rolls o'er elysian flowers her amber stream:
- With these that never fade the spirits elect
- Bind their resplendent locks."
It should be noted that the proper spelling of the word is amarant; the more common spelling seems to have come from a hazy notion that the final syllable is the Greek word anthos, "flower," which enters into a vast number of botanical names.
The plant genus Amaranthus (family Amaranthaceae) contains several well-known garden plants, such as love-lies-bleeding (A. caudatus), a native of India, a vigorous hardy annual, with dark purplish flowers crowded in handsome drooping spikes. Another species A. hypochondriacus, is prince's feather, another Indian annual, with deeply-veined lance-shaped leaves, purple on the under face, and deep crimson flowers densely packed on erect spikes. Amaranth wood has a unique dark purplish tone to it, and is used decoratively.
The leaves and seeds of Amaranthus species are edible: Amaranthus seed was one of the staple foodstuffs of the Incas, and it is known as kiwichi in the Andes today. The protein in the seed is particularly well suited to human nutritional needs, and interest in this crop (A. Cruentis and A. hypochondriaca) was revived in the 1970s.
"Globe amaranth" belongs to an allied genus, Gomphrena, and is also a native of India. It is an annual about 18 inches high, with solitary round heads of flowers; the heads are violet from the colour of the bracts which surround the small flowers.
In ancient Greece the amaranth (also called chrusanthemon and elichrusos) was sacred to Ephesian Artemis. It was supposed to have special healing properties, and as a symbol of immortality was used to decorate images of the gods and tombs. In legend, Amarynthus (a form of Amarantus) was a hunter of Artemis and king of Euboea; in a village of Amarynthus, of which he was the eponymous hero, there was a famous temple of Artemis Amarynthia or Amarysia (Strabo x. 448; Pausan. i. 31, p. 5).