Amaranthus- A Super Food for the Backyard Gardener

Giant Orange Amaranthus
Giant Orange Amaranthus

I tried growing some Amaranthus or commonly known as “love lies bleeding” this season, and it really surprised me.  I have grown the smaller varieties in the past, like the pendulous variety which topped off at 3 to 4 feet tall.  But the Giant Orange Amaranthus shot up 8 feet tall and then sent out this wonderful feathery plume that everybody who visits just stops and stares at! These flowers are not valuable as nectar sources for pollinators, but the seeds are a great nutrient packed source for humans.

The Giant Orange Amaranthus towers over me!
The Giant Orange Amaranthus towers over me!
Having fun with 'Love Lies Bleeding' at Giverny
Having fun with ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ at Giverny

Grown for thousands of years, amaranthus has been called an”ancient grain” or “pseudo cereal“. The entire plant is edible, leaves, stalks, seeds, and flower, so it has been called “the wonder food plant“. The seeds can be popped like corn, roasted, stir fried,  and sprinkled on cereal. The stems and leaves can be chopped and stir fried or eaten in salads. It is packed with protein, lysine, high in fiber, and supposed to lower cholesterol.

Amaranthus comes in all colors, including the foliage
Amaranthus comes in all colors, including the foliage

It reminds me of chia seeds, another nutrient packed rice like grain. I love chia, so I was really interested in trying out amaranthus. But I wasn’t sure how to harvest it and after some trial and error figured it out. Watch my YouTube video on the process.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cYtAROA4ZU

Basically, I set up a Tupperware container with a screen on top and rubbed the seeds through the screen into the container beneath. You are separating the seeds from the chaff, just like threshing wheat.

Rub the seed heads through a screen to harvest Amaranthus
Rub the seed heads through a screen to harvest Amaranthus

In just 10 to 15 minutes, I harvested about a cup of the seeds ready to use in cooking. They taste good too! I will be growing more varieties next year for sure.

Beeswax Citrus Soap

 I am experimenting with different varieties of handmade soap and I love orange flavor, and recently made some citrus soap bars. They turned out great, so wanted to share this variation using a base of olive oil soap.  I call it Beeswax Citrus Soap. Think how good this soap is for your skin with all this olive oil and beeswax! Beeswax softens and protects skin from environmental elements and is naturally nourishing and antibacterial and anti-allergenic. the addition of orange peel adds to the exfoliant properties. Orange Citrus Soap

Orange Citrus SoapI love handmade, preferring it to the commercially overly scented variety, picking it up at local craft fairs and boutique stores.  The cost was adding up, plunking down $5 or $6 for a small bar, and I looked into making it at home. I have always hesitated to make soap due to the use of caustic lye in creating the chemical of making soap, which is called saponification.

In the old days, when people had to make their own soap, they made lye with wood ashes. They would take the white ash left over from a hardwood fire and boil it with rain water, and liquid lye would float to the top.

Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!
Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!

 

Beeswax cakes from my hives
Beeswax cakes from my hives

Gather Materials

Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don't have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one
Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don’t have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one

First off, make sure that you have the containers and equipment needed.  They are:

  • Immersion blender
  • Digital cooking thermometer
  • Kitchen scale
  • Variety of containers and cook pots that you will only use for soap making; a heavy saucepan, plastic 2  quart beverage container, and wooden spoon
  • Soap mold-You can use a small kitty litter pan; I used a milk container for my soap
  • Old clothes and apron
  • Goggles
  • Rubber Gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves

Safety Precautions

I recommend making soap in your kitchen or basement laundry tub where curious kids and pets cannot get into it. A caustic substance, lye has to be handled very carefully. If you use common sense, and pay attention to directions, you will be fine. Keep a bottle of white vinegar handy, if you spill any caustic lye on your skin.

Assemble all your ingredients and equipment in advance and put on old clothes and an apron, though I have never damaged any of my clothes in the process. Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves and you are ready to go. The following is your basic procedure and ingredients. The final step is adding your flavoring/scent and you can add any scent at all that you like.

Recipe for Olive Oil Beeswax Soap

36 ounces olive oil

6 ounces coconut oil

3 ounces castor oil

2 ounces of grated beeswax

12 ounces distilled water

6 ounces lye

2 ounces essential oil of your choice ( I used Vitamin E, but the possibilities are endless)

Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
  1. Measure 12 ounces of water into the plastic pitcher. Your kitchen scale should subtract the weight of the pitcher from the weight of the water.  Everything has to be measured precisely. Set your pitcher in the sink.
  2. Weigh out 6 ounces of lye. I used a plastic disposable cup.
  3. Pour the lye from the cup into the water in the pitcher NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! And gently stir it in with the wooden spoon.
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir

A thermal reaction will occur and the solution will get very hot and give off some fumes. It stinks!! At this point, I set the pitcher outside to cool off –  away from animals. I hate the smell of the fumes.

Measuring out your oils on the scale
Measuring out your oils on the scale

4. Weigh your oils and beeswax and put them into the wide saucepan and heat on a low heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool slightly. You will measuring the temperature of this mixture to be around 98 to 110 degrees F.

Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last
Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last

5. Test the heat of the lye solution by touching the outside of the pitcher to see if it is cooling down a bit. It should feel tepid to the touch, not hot.

6. Take the temperature with your digital thermometer of both the oil solution and the lye solution, making sure that you wipe off the probe with a paper towel between each use. The trick is to get the two solutions around the same temperature, around 98 degrees to 110 F which is called equalizing. This is the most difficult part of the whole process.  The lye solution will take about an hour to come down from a high of around 160 degrees to the lower temperature that you need. The following is a useful video on how to do this:

7. Plug in your immersion blender so it is ready to use.

8. Combine the two solutions once they have reached the right temperatures (see above), pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils and stirring with the wooden spoon a couple of times.

10. Without turning on the blender, immerse it into the mixture down to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that your gloves and goggles are on because you could get splattered a bit.  I also like to put the saucepan in the sink for this step. You can do this by hand without a blender, but it will take much longer with a lot of stirring!

11. Turn on the blender and slowly circulate it around the circumference of the pan. Keep blending, watching the consistency.  Within a few minutes, the mixture will start turning opaque and thicken. Keep blending until the mixture starts forming a ‘trace’, which is just part of the mix leaving a visible swirl on top.  The mixture should be the consistency of runny pudding.

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12. Add your essential oils ( I used 1/4 ounce each of lemon and orange oil). Grate 2 oranges to get about 1/4 cup of grated skin and add to mixture. I also sprinkled some turmeric on top to increase the intensity of the orange color.  This is for color only, not for any flavor. Mix in and I liked the swirls of turmeric so didn’t mix that in completely.

Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Grated orange peel, oils, turmeric, and mold with immersion blender
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Adding the oils and grated orange peel
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Turmeric sprinkled on top
Swirl the colors and oil in
Swirl the colors and oil in
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours
Pour into a milk carton mold and cover with a towel for 24 hours

13. Pour your soap into your mold (here I used a wax covered milk container with the top cut out).

14.  Wrap the container in an old towel and set aside for 24 hours.

15. The next day, the soap is still soft enough to be cut into blocks with a sharp knife. I peel off the container and chop it up with a warmed knife.

Peeling off the milk carton
Peeling off the milk carton

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Out of this one batch, I made 20 blocks of soap which should last me a long time for my personal use and lots of gifts.

Clean up

To clean up your mess, I take bunches of paper towels and wipe everything off thoroughly and throw the towels into a garbage bag to go outside. Remember, this stuff is very caustic and can still burn you. The immersion blender I treat the same way, and then take off the blender stick and thoroughly clean it in hot soapy water –  same with the digital thermometer.

Aging

You have to let the soap age about a month before using as it will retain some of its caustic nature immediately after you make it. I leave it out in a sunny window to age it for a few months before using or giving it as gifts.

DIY SOAP

Beautiful handmade soap
Beautiful handmade soap

I love handmade soap, preferring it to the commercially overly scented variety, picking it up at local craft fairs and boutique stores.  The cost was adding up, plunking down $5 or $6 for a small bar, and I looked into making it at home. I have always hesitated to make soap due to the use of caustic lye in creating the chemical process of making soap, which is called saponification.

Olive oil beeswax soap
Olive oil beeswax soap

In the old days, when people had to make their own soap in addition to their lye, they made lye with wood ashes. They would take the white ash left over from a hardwood fire and boil it with rain water and liquid lye would float to the top. It sounded so simple, that I really considered doing it for about 1 second and then thought that the soap making would be enough of a challenge without complicating things.

Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!
Commercial lye which is also used as a drain cleaner- very toxic!!!!

Lye is 100 percent sodium hydroxide, NaOH. I got mine at Lowes in the plumbing aisle as Crystal Drain Opener.  It can be hard to find as it is used in the illegal manufacture of meth ( who would have thought!!!) and it has been pulled from drugstore shelves.  You can also buy it online.

I also wanted to use my accumulated hoard of beeswax in my soap so started looking for soap recipes which included beeswax.

Beeswax cakes from my hives
Beeswax cakes from my hives

Gather Materials

Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don't have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one
Immersion blender, scale, large saucepan, large juice jug, plastic disposable cup, wooden spoon- I don’t have the thermometer here but you need a good digital instant read one

First off, make sure that you have the containers and equipment needed.  They are:

  1. Immersion blender
  2. Digital cooking thermometer
  3. Kitchen scale
  4. Variety of containers and cook pots that you will only use for making soap like a heavy saucepan, plastic 2  quart beverage container, wooden spoon
  5. Soap mold- I bought a small kitty litter pan
  6. Old clothes and apron
  7. Goggles
  8. Rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves
Safety items- apron, goggles, white vinegar, rubber gloves

Safety Precautions

I recommend making soap in your kitchen or basement laundry tub where curious kids and pets cannot get into it. Lye is very caustic and you need to respect that, but don’t be afraid of making soap because of that.  If you are careful and use common sense, you will be fine. Keep a bottle of white vinegar handy, if you spill any caustic lye on your skin.

Assemble all your ingredients and equipment in advance and put on old clothes and an apron, though I have never damaged any of my clothes in the process. Put on your safety goggles and rubber gloves and you are ready to make soap!!

Recipe for Olive Oil Beeswax Soap

36 ounces olive oil

6 ounces coconut oil

3 ounces castor oil

2 ounces of grated beeswax

12 ounces water (distilled is best)

6 ounces lye

2 ounces essential oil of your choice ( I used Vitamin E, but the possibilities are only limited to what you can think up)!

Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
Olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil
  1. Measure your plastic pitcher first and then measure 12 ounces of water into the pitcher. Your scale should subtract the weight of the pitcher from the weight of the water.  Everything has to be measured precisely. Set your pitcher in the sink.
  2. Weigh out 6 ounces of lye. I used a plastic disposable cup.
  3. Pour the lye from the cup into the water in the pitcher NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! And gently stir it in with the wooden spoon.
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir
Pour the lye into the pitcher of water and stir

A thermal reaction will occur and the solution will get very hot and give off some fumes. It stinks!! At this point, I set the pitcher outside to cool off –  away from animals. I hate the smell of the fumes.

Measuring out your oils on the scale
Measuring out your oils on the scale

4. Weigh your oils and beeswax and put them into the wide saucepan and heat on a low heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool.

Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last
Heating the oils- the beeswax melts the last

5. Test the heat of the lye solution by touching the outside of the pitcher to see if it is cooling down a bit. It should feel tepid to the touch, not hot.

6. Take the temperature with your digital thermometer of the oil solution and the lye solution, making sure that you wipe off the probe with a paper towel between each use. The trick is to get the two solutions around the same temperature, around 98 degrees to 110 farenheit.  This is the most difficult part of the whole process.  The lye solution will take about an hour to come down from a high of around 160 degrees to the lower temperature that you need. The following is a useful video on how to do this:

7. Plug in your immersion blender so it is ready to use.

8.Combine the two solutions once they have reached the right temperatures (see above), pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils and stirring with the wooden spoon a couple of times.

10. Without turning on the blender yet, immerse it into the mixture down to the bottom of the pan. Make sure that your gloves and goggles are on because you could get splattered a bit.  I also like to put the saucepan in the sink for this step. You can do this by hand without a blender, but it will take much longer with a lot of stirring!

11. Turn on the blender and slowly circulate it around the circumference of the pan. Keep blending, watching the consistency.  Within a few minutes, the mixture will start turning opaque and thicken. Keep blending until the mixture starts forming a ‘trace’, which is just part of the mix leaving a visible swirl on top.  The mixture should be the consistency of runny pudding.

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12. Add your essential oil and mix in.

13. Pour your soap into your mold which has been lined with parchment paper and smooth it down with your spoon.

Pour into your mold (kitty litter pan) lined with parchment paper
Pour into your mold (kitty litter pan) lined with parchment paper

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14. Cover with a board and throw some towels on top and leave it for 24 hours to cool down and harden.

15. The next day, the soap is still soft enough to be cut into blocks with a sharp knife.

Cutting the soap into blocks
Cutting the soap into blocks

Out of this one batch, I made 20 blocks of soap which should last me a long time for my use and for gifts.

Clean up

To clean up your mess, I take bunches of paper towels and wipe everything off thoroughly and throw the towels into a garbage bag to go outside. Remember, this stuff is very caustic and can still burn you. The immersion blender I treat the same way, and then take off the blender stick and thoroughly clean it in hot soapy water –  same with the digital thermometer.

Variations and Additions

With this soap base, you can add anything to personalize and complement your own preferences, like herbs, spices and colorings.  For colorings and scents, you could add chocolate, coffee, tea, paprika, mixed herbs, turmeric, cocoa, cinnamon, mint, poppy seeds, star anise, lavender buds, orange peel, rose buds, honey, marigolds, and orange peel. The possibilities are endless.

Oatmeal honey soap
Oatmeal honey soap
Lavender swirl soap
Lavender swirl soap
Poppy seed lemon soap
Poppy seed lemon soap

Experiment! These soaps above look good enough to eat!

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Oatmeal soap which looks like honeycomb

I tried an oatmeal soap batch where I added oatmeal after the mixture had traced up and was getting thick.  I poured the mixture into an empty clean milk carton with straight sides which had one of the long sides cut out. I pressed bubble wrap into the mixture while it was still soft to get the texture of honeycomb.  The next time I add oatmeal, I will grind it up into smaller pieces. When you use this soap now, clumps of oatmeal fall out!

Soap ready to give as gifts
Soap ready to give as gifts

You have to let the soap age about a month before using as it will retain some of its caustic nature immediately after you make it. I leave it out in a sunny window to age it for a few months before using or giving it as gifts.

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