Food, Flower, Herb Or Dye. Which Am I? - The Sensibly Organic Cook Blog at - 226292

The Sensibly Organic Cook

Food, flower, herb or dye. Which am I? 
Mar. 8, 2011 11:58 am 
Updated: Mar. 16, 2011 6:33 am
That's exactly what I wanted to know when I first spotted this plant in my sister's yard.  It was strikingly similar to a houseplant I'd given my Mom on her 70th birthday.  The big difference being it was outside and had self sown.  Mom's plant would be a goner if it tried to over winter here and root cuttings propagate it.  What did my sister know about her plant?  She knew where she bought it and she thought the seller said Native Americans used it as dye.  It grew well, self seeded, had a very pretty color, and a tassel like flower.  It got bonus points for easy removal if it grew where she didn't want it.  OK.  I wanted some but I also wanted to know more about it.  So my search began and I thought I would share what I discovered.  Why?  At this house cooking and gardening go hand in hand.  My gardens provide everything from fresh produce to a wide variety of seasonings for my kitchen to turn into tasty meals.   And any plant that can say, "I'm all of the above", I consider a winning garden plant and definitely worth sharing!

Order-Caryophyllales  Family-Amaranthaceae  Genus-Amaranthus  Species-cruenthus X A.powellii  Common name-Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

Mom's houseplant.  I learned during my search that quite a few members of this family are tropical.  Explains why this one doesn't like being outside during Missouri winters!

Family-Amaranthaceae  Genus-Iresine  Species-herbstii  Common name-Gizzard plant or Blood leaf

Yes, the color really does look like that and that is what caught my eye when I bought the Gizzard plant so long ago and again when I saw the amaranth in Sis's yard.  Discovering the 2 were in the same family was a search bonus.  And yes, it was quite a quest since I didn't have much to go on but prior to this I'd gone on a similar hunt for another plant so I was prepared.  An invasive that someone had introduced to my yard which went on to choke out my hyssop and several varieties of thyme.  I'm still waging a battle against it but I know what it is now!  Plus, I've gained a growing interest in botanical classifications of plants because the invasive's common name is used by other plants not in its family.   Little did I know when in college I'd be so interested in botany later.  Sure, I've always enjoyed growing things but now I find the twists and turns in their family trees, so to speak, rather fascinating.  Did you know a rose is related to the apple tree?  They share Division, Class, Order and Family.  There's ever so much I don't know about the levels of plant identification but the cool thing about not knowing it all is knowledge can always be added to!  Sometimes it's even fun and you score bonus knowledge!  Like I did when I discovered yet another plant in the Amaranthaceae family.  A subfamily-Chenopodioideae.  Wait till you see what it is!

Back to my food. flower, herb and dye plant.  While the food, flower, and dye uses are pretty easy to show and explain, what about its use as an herb?   Yes, it is called an herb.  Webster tells me an herb is a seed producing annual, biennial or perennial that does not develop persistent tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season.  It is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory or aromatic qualities.  OK.  Again I'm not a botanist but I'll accept it as an herb.  A very pretty and tasty one!

I've included pictures of my attempts to grow it in a window box so I could harvest leaves for salads.  What a colorful way to dress up a salad!  In a container with nasturtiams and coleus.  I really like the color of this plant.  So vibrant in the sun!

Here it is out in the butterfly garden.  Did I mention the finches loved the seed heads?  Which you can also dry for flower arrangements.  The seeds are edible for us too.  However, it would take quite a few to consider yourself having had a snack of them.  Just wait till you see its bigger cousin (for lack of better word!).

I reseeded the window box and then got to look at those bright leaves all winter in the sunroom.  Rather cheery when the sun would shine between snowstorms.

Since this plant is used to make dye, I thought why not?  I'm not at all familiar with making my own dyes from plant products but the attempt was fun.  I was hoping to dye cupcakes with it but I don't think I made it strong enough because they were only vaguely pink.  Still tasted good though!

I've included links in case you'd like to read more about this plant and its family.  I never would have guessed a plant I found growing in my sister's yard would have so many uses and be good to eat.  Not to mention healthful.  Compared to some of the cousins I read about maybe not as high on the nutritional scale but I'd give it bonus points for being easy to grow!  You can toss the young leaves in a salad.  Wish this had been around when I was trying to get my son to eat salads.  I'm pretty sure he would have liked eating it for its color alone.  Its taste I'm not sure how to describe.  The only word that comes to mind is clean or fresh.  It doesn't remind me of spinach.  For my "Birthday brunch" blog, I had it steamed.  Worked pretty well and I liked it.  It could have a counterpart in another cuisine but my palate hasn't had the chance to extensively sample other cuisines.  I still chuckle when I think of Good EatNZ's attempts at broadening my culinary horizons during our joint blog effort.  Speaking of Laurie, I'm so glad to have made her acquaintance and I truly hope the future gets brighter sooner rather than later for her and all those that have been affected by New Zealand's latest quake.  It is truly sad to think how permanent some of the damage to lives and property has been there.

Finally, what was my bonus plant in the search?  Order-Caryophyllales  Family-Amaranthaceae  Subfamily-Chenopodioideae  Genus-Chenopoduim  Species-quinoa.  Yes, indeed!  Quinoa.

Just what little I have read has been very interesting.  One site called it a puesdo grain since it is not really a grain but a seed.  So far everything I have read rates it high on the nutritional scale.  Plus, it is gluten free.  After I saw a request on the buzz about it, I decided to try some myself.  It must have been very popular at the store because all the red was gone and there was very little white left.  Enough for me to try, though.  I know we are supposed to include more veggies and grains in our diets.  The veggies not so much of a problem for me.  A variety of grains more so.  One of the favorite grains they tell us to add I hate.  Yep, I hate oatmeal.  I'd rather eat it straight out of the box than cooked.  My poor mother would lament my lack of proper oatmeal for her breakfast when she came to visit.  She was just sure sure if I got the right kind I'd learned to love it.  Nope.  If you are a mushroom hater is there ever going to be a kind of mushroom you like?  I rest my case! 

I didn't try anything much with the quinoa.  Soaked it in chicken broth and heated it to see if I'd like it.  I did!  I like the consistency and the flavor.  So much so, I added the rest to homemade barley and mushroom soup.  This will be something I certainly try again and I look forward to seeing what else I can make out of it.

I hope you enjoyed the blog and I'm going to leave you with a picture that has nothing to do with it.  It happened to appear while I was taking pictures of the amaranth.  I thought I'd see who knew what it was especially Doug Matthews.  Yes, I do know what it is! LOL!

About Amaranth and Hopi Red Dye.
About Quinoa.
I saw this request and copied it for myself since I wanted to keep the info about quinoa. I thought anyone else wishing to know more about  quinoa might find what these AR members were sharing interesting too.
How plants are classified.
Hopi Red Dye Amaranth
Photo Detail
Mar. 8, 2011 1:36 pm
Aww -- lovely writing (as usual) but how kind of you to use it to send good thoughts our way! Being a Biology major, I've always be fascinated by 'taxonomy', too. We did 'well' with our amaranth growing this season, but I'm afraid we fell down on using it. I love the crunch quinnoa adds to things. There's a great AR recipe ( for Minty Orzo and Lentil Salad. I always add a bit of quinnoa for texture, plus the lentils are good for you too!
Mar. 8, 2011 1:55 pm
What a nice color, no wonder they used it for dyes. Do you think it would work well as a colorant in cooked foods? Thanks.
Mar. 8, 2011 2:28 pm
Red quinoa is half again more expensive than white at our local store and black is still more so. My crew likes this: ~~~ Once again your have shared absolutely gorgeous photos. Thanks!
Mar. 8, 2011 2:29 pm
That was the wrong link! Ditzy!!
Mar. 8, 2011 3:05 pm
Good EatNZ, I did not know that about you! Daily I think of you though!!! Cool another recipe! I'm glad you liked the blog, it was done with you in mind. I've learned so much from you. I just wish I could do something for you to help out during this time! Hugs!
Mar. 8, 2011 3:11 pm
Marvel's Kitchen, thanks for stopping by! As I said there is so much I don't know but it doesn't stop me from trying to learn something new. Maybe someone experienced with plant dyes or this plant will stop by and share. I hope so :) Cause my attempt at cupcake coloring didn't work so well. If you have time you can look at some of the other things I tried in my "birthday" blog. It does retain its color. I know that :)
Mar. 8, 2011 3:15 pm
BigShotsMom, thank you for taking the time to share. I could not believe how well I liked the quinoa! And thanks for the saying my pictures look nice. Another thing I didn't think about doing till AR, photography with a purpose.
Mar. 8, 2011 4:33 pm
CatHill, your pictures look very nice! Interesting blog as well. I tried quinoa for the first time about a year ago. I do like it; my family can take it or leave it. That last picture looks like an extreme close up of a crayfish hole.
Mar. 8, 2011 4:48 pm
Mother Ann Shhh! I want to see if the Jersey boy knows what it is :) Thank you for stopping by and thank you for the compliment. Yep. My family can take it or leave it too. Mostly leave it. I really like it even from my limited use of it.
Mar. 8, 2011 7:00 pm
Good job Cat! Love the beautiful color.
Mar. 8, 2011 7:26 pm
So pretty! I love quinoa! I use it now instead of rice! Thanks for all the info!
Mar. 8, 2011 8:45 pm
Great Blog! I always learn something from alla-ya-all. The color is so intense and beautiful. As for quinoa. We're with the take it or leave it crowd.
Mar. 9, 2011 5:35 am
MB, thanks for stopping by! Color is definitely one of the things I love about this plant!
Mar. 9, 2011 5:37 am
Shanon, I hadn't tried the quinoa but I really liked. When the sun hits this plant it's a real stand out!
Mar. 9, 2011 5:43 am
Candice, thank you! Some foods are just like that :) I know can definitely leave oatmeal despite my Mom trying for years to get me to eat it LOL!
Mar. 9, 2011 10:29 am
I'll be exploring the quinoa, soon. I wasn't aware that it is such a showoff plant and so willing to go off on it's own. My vision of it was more like a wheat or oats. Do the kittys have the puppy trained, yet?
Mar. 9, 2011 12:57 pm
Oops! You can delete my post if you want to just to keep it interesting....
Mar. 9, 2011 1:01 pm
It's OK Mother Ann! LOL! I just figured most people wouldn't know those little creatures go on land too :) I've never seen quite a tower like that though!
Mar. 9, 2011 1:04 pm
Mike Harvey, I don't have a picture of quinoa as a plant shown. What you are looking at are its "cousins". I really like the flavor of the quinoa and I thought it might be an option for you! It packs quite a punch on the nutrional scales I've looked at. Good for you and tasty are always a big bonus for me :)
Mar. 9, 2011 1:29 pm
Wonderful blog! I find I say I love gardening and growing things, but it seems to be a surface thing for me. I love the beauty and the happiness it brings me,,,,,, but I know I am not knowledgeable about much of it except the basic things I have learned along the way from other gardeners and plant lovers. Your willingness to dig into the subject is inspirational. I took a weaving class once (baskets,,, I thought I could use it as a "skill" if I ever found myself in a Home :=O ), and learned to dye my reeds w/ walnuts. We have black walnut trees in our yard, so that Fall I had everyone from my class hunting in my yard for good walnuts. Again, thanks for the great read this wintery afternoon. Longing for Spring....sigh!
Mar. 9, 2011 1:41 pm
dang i'm late here!! this was most informative! great blog, thanks for sharing.
Mar. 9, 2011 3:49 pm
Wonderful writing as always and your pictures are great!. This was very informative and I think I am going to have to get one now. I'd love to add that color to salads. There is just something so satisfying eating food you've watched grow over grabbing it off the store shelf. Speaking of, I am determined to fine some morrels this year! Great blog Cat. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you have a wonderful talent!
Mar. 9, 2011 4:08 pm
chris k, thank you for dropping in and I'm glad you liked the blog! My son would tell you I am fanatical perhaps crazy outside in the gardens. Deep sigh, at least I keep myself busy :) I've got an extensive herb collection but don't always use them all so I'm really trying to educate myself with some of my blogs! Spring is March 20th! Daylight Savings time March 13th. The rain and snow has to stop soon!!!
Mar. 9, 2011 4:10 pm
gderr, I'm glad you stopped by and liked the blog too! How is your lovely lady?
Mar. 9, 2011 4:13 pm
Nicole, what a nice compliment, thank you! I'll email you a comment I got about my writing, I found it rather humorous :) I could probably send you some seed if you want to try this plant or you could go to probably get it from Seeds of Change. Morels! I swear the neighbor better not be stealing mine this year!
Mar. 9, 2011 4:17 pm
Mr. Harvey, I forgot about the animals. I was busy trying my luck with making ciabatta. Houston DESPISES Bane. One cat has turned into a mushroom and refuses to leave the basement. Pip could take him or leave him as long as he doesn't get fresh :)Josie is past exasperation with his amorous intentions! They long for better weather! As do we all :)
Mar. 10, 2011 1:55 pm
Girl, you remind me of me! Playing in the dirt is one of my very favorite things! Tell me about your herb garden. How big and what's in it? I'm digging a new kitchen garden this year instead of growing my herbs in Earth Boxes. Looking forward to that! Also new rose beds, perennial beds, some new citrus trees and I'm really wanting to plant an avocado tree too. Keep these gardening blogs coming so everyone can get inspired to plant something. It's so good for the soul. :o)
Mar. 10, 2011 6:36 pm
cheepchick, LOL! Probably why we would get in so much trouble together! Umm. I started in the front of the house with a potage garden and then spread out. Way out! It might be easier if you ask what is where! And do I know how to use it yet :) I think the collection is at around 50 different types with several different flavors in some. Roses- I have one you would love but I pick ones rated zone 3. You are so hot, your zone, you should be able to grow some I can't! I have a lemon tree I started years ago. It's bloomed once. I hear fresh avocados are NOTHING like what I can get here. Envy! My Mom had a poem she liked- this is the end of it- "One is nearer God's heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth" I have it in her handwriting and I've been meaning to put it on a window and hang it out in one of the gardens.
Mar. 10, 2011 6:55 pm
Great blog Cat. I have sooooo much to learn about herbs. I love to dig in the dirt and grow things but tend to stick to the old stand-bys. Thanks so much - I learned something today. (PS - thank God my computer is up and running again - I have been going through withdrawals.)
Mar. 11, 2011 5:12 am
Hey, Baking Nana! Thank you. And so do I! For as much as I do know there is still lots of room left to learn. Especially about herbs other cultures & cuisines use and grow. In my reading I came across epazote(Chenopodium Ambrosoides) which is related to quinoa. I know nothing about it but have heard about it and seen it in my gardening magazine. cheepchick gave me something to think about with her post so I decided to sit down and list all my herbs, which gardens they are in and why I got them. I confess I got some just without having a real purpose for them. Yeah!! It's going to be nice today so after indoor chores I get to spent the rest of the day playing in the gardens and with Bane.
Mar. 12, 2011 12:18 pm
Cat, you ain't gonna believe this Dad sent me a pretty little plaque that hangs in the kitchen by the door out back and it has that very quote! Get yours hung up already. It will make you smile every time you see it! I'd love to know what herbs you have. Epazote is used a lot in Cuban and Puerto Rican cooking, btw. Have you tried growing Stevia? :o)
Mar. 13, 2011 5:44 am
Whoa! Did you get the whole poem? I'm trying to trace it in her handwriting on a window to hang out in the garden. Yes, I've got 2 3 yr old Stevia's or is it 4? I'm going to list all my gardens with their herbs and send it to you. So far I've got the potage garden done. A few more hours of weeding and it will be done then on to the water garden and then.... :)
Mar. 13, 2011 3:39 pm
The link to this was featured on one of my daily emails from AR. The title kind of piqued my curiosity, so I harmlessly (or so I thought) clicked on it. BIG mistake. It's Sunday afternoon, I'm in the middle of renoing before we put this place up for sale. Too much to do, not enough time. And thanks to that 'harmless' click, I've just shot part of my day all to you-know-where. This was more more than just interesting. Your bringing up quinoa makes me chuckle a little. Lordy, I hate to think of myself as 'middle-aged' at only 56, but I suppose that some day reality has to set in. A couple of years ago, I found myself in the same state that a lot of others do as well, it seems. There certainly are lots of exceptions, but so many of us grow up just eating whatever, without any real thought given to the 'consequences' of some of our habits, including our diets. Sure, most of us knew enough about the basics and hopefully stuck to at least those, but facing the irrefutable fact that immortality just ain't in the cards, perhaps while better late than never, there really are all sorts of different types of foods to try that can at least help us along a little. Ones that we'd never given a second thought to earlier in life, but both open up all sorts of new culinary experiences, while at the same time serving the purpose of being most beneficial to our overall health and well being. It's almost gotten to the point where researching different foods can turn into fun (really??). Fascinating things turn up, and quite often, lots of pre-conceived ideas, because they were known to be 'fact' turn out to be so misconstrued when considering the bigger picture. Just try bringing up the topic of fats and oils, and oh my, you should avoid all of those if you can help it, and then see if you can get out of that discussion in thirty seconds. And if there wasn't over the last few years more interest taken by people as to what really can be beneficial for them, would there REALLY be this somewhat new interest in foods like quinoa? I'm like many others- it's not something that I would have regretted if I'd never run across it- not like a nice big juicy steak riddled with marbling. But now that I've at least made the effort to give it a go, I'm glad that I did. Like most things, if you play with it enough in conjunction with other foods when whipping up some new idea for a recipe, (almost) anything can be made to be quite tasty. So I guess, Cat Hill, that this was a not-so-short way of saying that I very much enjoyed your blog for more reasons than just that pretty 'food, flower, food or dye?' plant. Your writing is entertaining, your pictures are very well done, and I was definitely entertained by reading all of the various comments that you've generated. Thank you. p.s.- what's ironic for me is that the link that I originally clicked on that led me to your blog was for...yes! - a delicious sounding nice big juicy steak. Laughed at myself when it suddenly hit me. But at the same time, where would some of the fun of being alive be if we avoided everything that was 'bad' for us all of the time?
Mar. 13, 2011 7:39 pm
LOL! John, I was just told to sit down and act my age. Playing chase with the new puppy in the house during TV viewing time. I'm not sure how a steak got you to my blog but I am glad you liked it. And I agree, sometimes you have to have that piece of steak or that croissant. My surprise was that a pretty plant could taste good & be good for you, has been used for so long, be related to other good for you foods and the birds could enjoy it in the winter too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Mar. 14, 2011 6:10 am
Hi'ya Cat! Your knowledge of plants never ceases to amaze me! You have such a lovely way with words and your curiosity is infectious. How do you determine what plants are safe to cook with? What is the criteria for plants being used as food? Such a lovely plant...
Mar. 14, 2011 6:28 am
THAT"S THE QUESTION! How do you know what is what and is safe to eat? I looked at hours worth of info to find what I did on the Amaranth but I still don't know if the "gizzard" plant is safe to eat and I wouldn't try it unless I spoke with a knowledgable person. After all you can eat tomatos but their plant is poisonous. You can eat potatoes but their plant is poisonous and you can't leave your potatoes in the sun or they will develop that green skin which isn't safe to eat either. Thanks for stopping in, I didn't think you'd make it. What with the house been torn apart and all. You have so much going on! When's Mom moving in?
Mar. 14, 2011 6:34 am
I really enjoyed reading about you; you sound like someone who loves your old cookbooks as I do. I have so many but I love this site best and find many old-fashioned recipes. I have made cheese sauce for years and my kids used to eat about anything if I put on it!
Mar. 14, 2011 6:52 am
Rose Ann, thanks for stopping in! My favorite cookbook is Mom's 1954 edition Betty Crocker cookbook. I have a newer edition but find I go back to the old one. I especially love Mom's notes in the margins.
Mar. 14, 2011 7:07 am
Popping in and out is just proof I have an addiction to AR, Cat! LOL I cant stop myself! hahahah - Mom should be here looks like May now. Reno is taking longer than expected as a few problems had to be addressed. Hubs has to go away for a week for school too so we are postponing an additional 2 weeks. I need to look up nutritional needs for Alzheimer's now so I can have a game plan for making the most of what mom will actually eat. And she has diverticulitis, too. Please dont poison yourself over there even if it is a pretty color!!!!!! Smooches to "The New Kid"! ****
Mar. 14, 2011 10:15 am
WFDM?, what did I see not long ago about diet and Alzheimer's. There was something, some herb that was particularly soothing to them. I'll dig and see if I kept the reference. So no seeds, no nuts and what else goes on that "no no" list? I do not know how you do it! Good to hear from you though so I know you are still breathing, maybe gasping :)
Mar. 14, 2011 1:04 pm
Lavender, maybe?
Mar. 14, 2011 6:04 pm
No it was something else. It surprised me. Didn't have time to look to see if I saved it,made Bane treats. It's nice when one person(very furry) really likes and appreciates my cooking. Houston and Bane are having another Mommy loves me best fight gotta go!
Mar. 15, 2011 2:22 pm
Hey Cat! Cool blog!! LOOVE the pictures. Makes me think that Spring really IS right around the corner. It can't be easy gardening in that snowsuit!! ;)
Mar. 15, 2011 3:50 pm
Hey, you got to garden in Missouri when you can to get a jump on the weeds! I wish you and your baked beans could come back over this summer! Myabe at the end of July?!
Mar. 15, 2011 3:53 pm
That should be maybe. Sorry, I was reading Good EatNZ blog and was a little teary. Boy have they been blasted! Then to see what happened in Japan. So sad!
Mar. 15, 2011 8:40 pm
Hah! I thought my ears were burning!!! Speaking of amaranth, since I was in a good enough mood to do some housework yesterday, I found a card in a stack of magazines. A card with amaranth and thistle down pasted in it! Yep, that's tangible! Maybe that brought my muse back! Thanks!
Mar. 16, 2011 6:33 am
LOL Good EatNZ! Now I'll have to think of something to do for this year's card :)
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Cat Hill

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Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Member Since
Aug. 2009

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About Me
I live in the middle of the U.S. in a farming communtiy. Gardening, reading and cooking are the things you'll mostly find me doing. I also enjoy horseback riding & my many pets. A husband & teen, I have 1 of each.
My favorite things to cook
Bread & BBQ are 2 of my favorite things to cook. I do enjoy a food challenge. Last year it was curing my own brisket for Corned beef & pastrami & porkloin for Canadian bacon. This year sausages & scratch cakes.
My favorite family cooking traditions
Bread and brittle. I learned to bake bread with my Mom. It was her favorite thing to make. My Aunt made the best peanut brittle ever. She'd stopped making it in the later years but when I told her how much I enjoyed her brittle, she opened the vault ,gave me the recipe & handed over the brittle torch to me.
My cooking triumphs
Anything that turns out the way I wanted it to or exceeds my expectations! Like my homemade bratwurst.
My cooking tragedies
Let's not go there! I prefer not to think about my kitchen disasters besides my child can gleefully recount all of them.
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