Exhibition at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
“How Amaranth became a London Plant”
Watercolour & pencil on paper, amaranth seeds
Really pleased that this work was selected to be shown in the Svalbard Museum and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as part of ‘Seed Planting Art’, a digital exhibition organised by Artists for Plants in collaboration with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Go to artistsforplants.com to see a digital gallery of the selected works.
The brief was to make work relating to one or more seed samples preserved in the Vault. My work relates to 3 samples of amaranth seeds collected in Jamaica.
Amaranth is a wonderful example of the cultural and culinary exchanges going on on London’s allotments. Allotments have been very popular with the various immigrant communities, long before “growing your own” became a trendy thing. Immigrants brought with them their growing practices, food cultures and recipes - and often their seeds. I still bring seeds over from Germany!
The amaranth plants I drew here were grown on our allotment, from seeds we were originally given by fellow allotment holders of Jamaican origin. They call the plant “callaloo”, after the popular Jamaican dish in which amaranth leaves are the key ingredient. Amaranth does well in London, does not get attacked by pests, the leaves are incredibly tasty and nutritious, and the flowering plants look stunning.
Of course, we also got the callaloo recipe from our Jamaican fellow gardeners and it has become one of our favourite summer dishes.
Once introduced, amaranth will self-sow profusely, popping up everywhere in between other vegetables. Or you can save some of the plentiful seeds and re-sow in a more orderly fash
Amaranth leaves have long been eaten in Africa and Asia; in the Americas people also ate the seeds. The Spanish conquistadores banned the Atztecs and Mayas from growing amaranth but it survived as a weed, and farmers saved seeds and passed them on for generations, just like we do now.