So how did the word amaranth go from being an imaginary flower to a genus of flowers by the likes are the deep red cockscomb, love-lies-bleeding, and prince's feather; to A color inclining to purple as Webby 1913 says? The entry for amaranth in Random House Webster's College Dictionary goes into more details about the story behind this interesting word:
    English amaranth, which first appeared in the 16th century, came from Latin amarantus, meaning not just 'flower', but 'an unfading flower'. The Greek word from which Latin amarantus derived is amarantos which is formed from the prefix a- meaning 'not' (called the "alpha privative") plus marainein meaning 'to wither or decay'. The Indo-European root of this word, mer- meaning 'to die', is also the source of such words as "mortal, murder," and "mortgage."
Anthos is Greek for flower as in polyanthus, a kind of primrose or narcissus that has "many flowers," so -ant was reshaped to read -anth even though it had no true connection. The Roman naturalist Pliny first wrote in the first century A.D about his imaginary amaranth and said it never faded. Clement of Alexandria said a hundred year later that the flower was a symbol of immortality. Whether he knew about the Greek amaranth isn't known although he may not have simply transplanting an actual earthly flower to heaven when he spoke of a crown made of amaranths. The etymology "not-fading" and the reference in 1 Peter 5:4 to an "unfading crown of glory" led Clement to invent his flower which, true to its name, never fades. Some genus of amaranth are used in diets as a source of protein. They are annuals, tall with seed heads that droop. The large flowers and foliage is usually showy and a bright gold and purple. The grains are used in cereals and they range in a wide variety of sizes and typically white. In a suburb of Brisbane a Greek gardener says that one of her wedding presents was a packet of family heirloom amaranth seeds. Perhaps so that their love would never fade.

An undying flower of rare color from ancient legend. What poet could ask for more? By 1667 Milton was talking about the ever blooming plant his epic poem Paradise Lost:

    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.
William Cowper describes the amaranth in his poem Hope as pleasures exempt from oblivion when he wrote in 1781:
    "Hope plucks amaranthine joys from bowers of bliss."
In one of his poems written 1858 about a couple of angels Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes one of them as:
    "The angel with the amaranthine wreath, Pausing, descended."
Many thanks to Gritchka for explaining to me about the the Greek origins! So there you go, that's how the Romans went from from 'unfading' to 'flower' with the word amaranth.

Sources:

The Maven's Word of the Day:
http://www.randomhouse.com/

Seed Savers Handbook:
www.genevar.com.au/seedsavers/handbook

Public Domain text of the poem taken from E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.” Am’aranth.”:
http://www.bartleby.com/81/597.html

Wreaths:
web.odu.edu/webroot/instr/sci/plant.nsf/pages/wreaths

Amaranth was a staple in the diet of pre-Columbian Aztecs, who believed it had supernatural powers. Amaranth is a tall plant with very broad leaves that produces numerous tiny seeds, both the leaves and seeds are edible.

In Mexico amaranth is popped and mixed with a sugar solution to make a confection called alegria, it is also used to create the traditional Mexican drink Atole.

In India amaranth is known as rajeera (the King’s grain) and is popped then used in confections called laddoos, much like the Mexican alegria.

In Nepal, amaranth seeds are used to make sattoo somewhat like oatmeal, or into a flour to make chappatis.

In Ecuador, the flowers are boiled then the colored boiling water is added to aquardeinte rum to create a drink that purifies the blood.

Amaranth has been grown in the United States since 1975; the grain is becoming more widely available, and is often used as flour for baking.

The name amaranth comes from the Greek for never-fading flower. The plant is an annual herb, not a true grain and is a relative of Pigweed, and Cockscomb. There are approximately 60 species of amaranth as well as many varieties and cultivars.

Amaranth grows 5 to 7 feet tall with broad leaves and a head of small, red or magenta, flowers. The seed heads look like bushy corn tassels, the seeds are tiny (1/32"), and are a golden or tan color, with a few dark colored seeds.

Amaranth is an attractive plant and is extremely adaptable and easy to grow. Simply scratch the soil, throw down some seeds, and water. It resists heat and drought, and has no major disease problems.

Amaranth can be cooked as a cereal, ground into flour, popped like popcorn, sprouted, or toasted. The seeds can be cooked with other whole grains, or added to soups and stews.

Amaranth flour can be used in pasta or baked goods. It must be mixed with other flours when baked in yeast breads, as it contains no gluten. Use about one part amaranth flour to 3-4 parts wheat or other grain flours.

Amaranth grain has a mild, sweet, nutty flavor, the leaves taste much like spinach and are used much the same way.

Amaranth seed is high in protein (15-18%) and contains lysine and methionine, two essential amino acids that are not frequently found in other grains. It is high in fiber and contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C.

Amaranth seed has three times the fiber of wheat and five times the iron, it also has twice the calcium of milk. Amaranth leaf contains higher calcium, iron, and phosphorus levels than spinach.

Am"a*ranth (#), n. [L. amarantus, Gr. , unfading, amaranth; priv. + to quench, cause to wither, fr. a root meaning to die, akin to E. mortal; -- so called because its flowers do not soon wither: cf. F. amarante. The spelling with th seems to be due to confusion with Gr. flower.]

1.

An imaginary flower supposed never to fade.

[Poetic]

2. Bot.

A genus of ornamental annual plants (Amaranthus) of many species, with green, purplish, or crimson flowers.

2.

A color inclining to purple.

 

© Webster 1913.

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