Medicinal Qualities of Amaranth

Amaranthus species plants can be broken down into 3 basic categories, grain, leaf and ornamental. All varieties of the plant can be eaten as a green leafy vegetable when the plants are young enough and all will provide seed to one degree or another but only a few provide enough seed to be considered viable as a foodstuff. Species primarily used for their seeds are A.caudatus, A.cruentus, and A.hypochondriacus (1) while the species used primarily as a leaf vegetable are A.cruentus, A.blitum, A.dubius, A.viridus, and A.tricolor (2). Aside from being a nutritional powerhouse (See Post Nutritional Profile of Amaranth) this paragon of Mexican agriculture also has medicinal utility. Originating in the Americas, with evidence of its cultivation reaching back around 9000 years or so, this species is now widely cultivated throughout Asia and Africa (not to mention the Americas) and has entered the medicinal repertories of (amongst others) India, Nepal, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Southern and Eastern Africa.

  1. A.viridus and A.hybridus are “weed” species that show potential as seed crops (Xarvier etal)
  2. syn A.gangeticus. This plant has sometimes been noted as a separate species though.

General caution : The amaranth species is an exceptional accumulator of nitrates. If the soil they grow in has been exposed to high levels of nitrogen based fertilisers it is taken up by the plant and accumulates in the plants tissues (not in the seeds though). These nitrates can be converted to nitrites in the human digestive system and can in some cases cause poisoning. Nitrites bind to the haemoglobin in blood, robbing it of
the ability to carry oxygen. The symptoms of nitrite poisoning include shortness of breath, reduced immunity to disease and, in extreme cases, may lead to death from suffocation. People who are over 6 months old, have a good diet and are generally healthy are less likely to have issues as acids in the digestive system kill off the bacteria that convert nitrates to nitrites. Pregnant women, those being treated for cancer and those who have low stomach acidity have an increased risk from nitrite toxicity.

Amaranthus spinosus

Amaranthus spinosus
Photo by Lauren Gutierrez

Also known as : spiny amaranth, pigweed

Actions : antidepressant, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ischuric (1), antimalarial, anti-nociceptive, antipyretic, anti-ulcer, bronchodilator, cytotoxic, diuretic, febrifuge, gastroprotective, hepatoprotective, hypocholesterolemic, laxative, spasmolytic, stomachic

  1. ischuria. : stoppage or reduction in the flow of urine either from blockage of a passage (or from disease of the kidneys) with resulting urine retention in the bladder .

A.spinosus has many traditional medicinal uses including the treatment bleeding problems such as of internal bleeding, nosebleeds and wounds in general. It has been used in disorders of the GIT from mouth ulcers to stomach disorders such as colic and diarrhoea and dysentery. It has also been used for women for menorrhagia (1), urinary tract infections and as a galactagogue (2). Studies (Kumar etal 2014) have shown that ethanolic extracts of this plant have anti-diabetic, anti-cholesterolemic, spermatogenic, anti-hyperlipidemic, anti-peptic ulcer (root extract), anti-diarrhoeal and antipyretic effects. A aqueous methanolic extract has shown spasmolytic and bronchodilatory effects in asthma (and may have a laxative effect through the same pathways). Aqueous extracts (of the whole plant) have demonstrated antheminthic activity.

  1. excessive menstrual bleeding.
  2. an agent that increases breast milk production.
Spiny amaranth (A.spinosus) showing the “spines” on the stem of this plant which is generally thought of as a weed.
Photo by Sheldon Navie
Brisbane City Council Weed Identification Guide

Amaranthus caudatus

Amaranthus caudatus
Photo by Phillip Merritt

Actions : anti-atherosclerotic, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, antinociceptive, antipyretic, hypocholesterolemic

Amaranthus hypochondriacus

Amaranthus hypochondriacus
Authors photo

Actions : hepatoprotective

Amaranthus cruentus L

Amaranthus cruentus L
Photo by Scamperdale

Actions : hepatoprotective

Cautions : A.cruentus contains hydrocyanic and oxalic acids. These acids can potentially cause health issues, particularly with kidney stones. This makes this variety less suitable for human consumption but these properties can be removed by soaking the leaves in cold water overnight and adequate cooking and disposal of the cooking water. This can potentially be a similar issue (although not as pronounced) as that caused by eating raw Taro leaves (1). The oxalates in the fresh leaves may cause burns to the oral mucosa, nausea, severe gastroenteritis and vomiting, and in extreme cases shock and convulsions

  1. Colocasia esculenta.

Amaranthus lividus

Amaranthus lividus
Photo by Mark Dickson

Actions : anti-cancerous

In some practices of traditional medicinal use of A.lividus in Bangladesh the boiled leaves and roots of this plant are given to children as a laxative; they are applied as an emollient poultice to abscesses, boils and burns. Root juice mixed with sugar or molasses is given in cases of dysentery. (Rahman etal 2014)

Amaranthus viridis L

Amaranthus viridis L
Photo by LiChieh Pan

This plant is a common weed in equatorial Africa and is ubiquitous in temperate regions such as Australia, Europe, North America and Asia. Some sources state that this particular species of amaranth may be of Asian origin.

Actions : anti-diabetic, anti-emetic, anti-hyperglycaemic, anti-hyperlipidemic, anti-inflammatory (of the urinary tract), anti-nociceptive, antipyretic, anti-ulcer, antiviral, cardioprotective, diuretic, hypocholesterolemic, laxative

The leaves have been used (either fresh or dried and powdered) in poultices to treat inflammation in such conditions as boils and abscesses, gonorrhoea, haemorrhoids and orchitis (1) and in the Philippines a fresh leaf poultice has been used to treat eczema, psoriasis and other rashes (Ferdous etal 2015). The leaves have febrifuge (2) properties and an infusion of them is used as a blood purifier. A poultice of the pounded root has been applied as a remedy for dysentery. In traditional Indian and Nepalese medicine the plant is used to treat labour pains and as an anti-pyretic. Studies show (Ferdous etal 2015) that a methanolic extract of this plant exhibits antinociceptive, antipyretic and hepatoprotective (3) effects. A.viridus (along with A.spinosus and A.caudatus) possesses a potent anthelmintic (4) activity when compared to piperazine (5).

  1. an inflammation of the testicles. It can be caused by either bacteria or a virus. Both testicles may be affected by orchitis at the same time. However, the symptoms usually appear in just one testicle. This kind of testicular inflammation is often associated with the mumps virus.
  2. fever reducing
  3. against paracetamol induced liver damage.
  4. used to treat infections of animals with parasitic worms
  5. Piperazine is used to treat common roundworms (ascariasis) and pinworms (enterobiasis; oxyuriasis). Piperazine works by paralyzing the worms. They are then passed in the stool.

The antidiabetic and hypolipidemic qualities of this plant seem a little confusing though. Ferdous (2015) states that “Recent studies have demonstrated that there is no scientific evidence to support the antihyperglycemic (1) and antihypolipidemic (2) effects of A.viridis” while later on in the same document it states that “at doses of 200 and 400mg/kg” a whole plant methanolic extract of A.viridis “showed significant reduction of lipid profiles and blood glucose” and that it could be concluded that the extract “possesses antihyperlipidemic and antidiabetic activities” (Ashok etal 2012). These two points are contradictory.

  1. antihyperglycemic agents lower glucose levels in the blood
  2. Hypolipidemic agents, or antihyperlipidemic agents, are a diverse group of pharmaceuticals that are used in the treatment of high levels of fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia)

Amaranthus tricolor

Amaranthus tricolor
Photo by Jean

Actions : anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive, diuretic, gastroprotective, hypocholesterolemic

Cautions : See cautions under A.cruentus

Study into the alkaloid content of A.tricolor has shown that these alkaloids have a noted antimicrobial activity (particularly against E.coli) and that these alkaloids show great promise for the creation of medicines that are far less toxic than synthetically manufactured drugs (Khanam 2013). This plant, along with A.hypochondriacus has also shown high levels of salicylic acid which is both bactericidal and antiseptic and is used in medications that treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne.

Amaranthus tricolor Perfecta
Michigan State University Demonstration Gardens
Photo by ksblack99

Amaranthus hybridus var paniculatus

Amaranthus hybridus var paniculatus
Photo by Scamperdale

Actions : anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive


  • Akin-Idowu, Pamela & Odunola, Oyeronke & Gbadegesin, Michael & Aduloju, Ayodeji & Solomon, Aduvienane & Adegoke, Ayodeji. (2015). Hepatoprotective effect of Amaranthus hypochondriacus seed extract on sodium arsenite-induced toxicity in male Wistar rats. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. 9. 731-740. 10.5897/JMPR2015.5860.
  • Alegbejo, Janet. (2014). Nutritional Value and Utilization of Amaranthus ( Amaranthus spp.) – A Review. Bayero Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences. 6. 136. 10.4314/bajopas.v6i1.27.
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  • Cherkas A, Zarkovic K, Cipak Gasparovic A, et al. Amaranth oil reduces accumulation of 4–hydroxynonenal–histidine adducts in gastric mucosa and improves heart rate variability in duodenal peptic ulcer patients undergoing Helicobacter pylori eradication. Free Radic Res. 2018;52(2):135–149.
  • Ferdous, Md & Shahjahan, D. & Tanvir, Sharif & Mukti, Mohsina. (2015). Present Biological Status of Potential Medicinal Plant of Amaranthus viridis: A Comprehensive Review. American Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. Special Issue:Herbal Remedies as Alternative to Future Drugs Development and Treatment. 3. 12-17. 10.11648/j.ajcem.s.2015030501.13.
  • Kavita Peter & Puneet Gandhi (2017) Rediscovering the therapeutic potential of Amaranthus species: A review, Egyptian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 4:3, 196-205, DOI: 10.1016/j.ejbas.2017.05.001
  • Khanam, Umma & Oba, Shinya. (2013). Bioactive substances in leaves of two amaranth species, Amaranthus tricolor and A. hypochondriacus. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 93. 47-58. 10.4141/cjps2012-117.
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  • Mamedov, N, Z Gardner, and L.E Craker. “Medicinal Plants Used In Russia and Central Asia for the Treatment of Selected Skin Conditions.” Journal of herbs, spices & medicinal plants, v. 11,.1-2 pp. 191-222. doi: 10.1300/J044v11n01_07
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