Quinoa (Say Keen-wah)

Chenopodium quinoa - Willd.

Edible Uses

Edible parts; Leaves; Seed.

Quinoa grains have a unique coating called saponin that serves as a protection from birds and the intense rays of the altiplano sun during growth. Unless these saponins are removed, the grain will taste quite bitter and is actually toxic. Before quinoa reaches the marketplace, most of the saponins have already been removed. To wash your quinoa, simply put the grains into a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water for one to two full minutes. This guarantees a delicately sweet pleasant flavor to the cooked grains. Leaves; raw or cooked. The leaves of the quinoa are spinach-like and can be enjoyed raw in salads. The leaves of the plant can also be cooked and enjoyed as you would spinach. The Peruvians enjoy a hearty soup that features quinoa as the base along with vegetables.

Medicinal Uses

Historically, cooked and ground quinoa was used as a compress to draw out pain and discoloration from bruises. It was also used as a diuretic and to encourage vomiting. The Indians included quinoa in their treatment of a number of ills, such as urinary tract problems, tuberculosis, appendicitis, liver problems, altitude sickness, and motion sickness. Today it is commonly used for altitude sickness. Because of its high calcium content, it is considered beneficial in treating bone problems. Natives of the Andes claim it helps strengthen women during pregnancy and postpartum, and promotes healthier milk in nursing mothers. Andean advice to heal broken bones is to eat plenty of quinoa and apply a plaster made of quinoa flour and water. For infections, they also prescribe the quinoa plaster.

Quinoa is in the Goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae) which includes beets, chard, and spinach.

The quinoa plant resembles amaranth but with 3' to 9' stalks that take on a magenta hue. The large seedheads, which make up nearly one half the plant, vary dramatically in color and display a rainbow of reds, purples, greens, roses, lavenders, oranges, wine reds, blacks, yellows, and mustards. Quinoa is considered a leafy grain as is amaranth and buckwheat rather than a grass grain such as barley, millet, oats, rice, teff, and wheat.

A truly remarkable plant, quinoa has a vertical seedhead covered with enough seeds to plant one-fourth acre. One pound of seeds, equal to four cups, is sufficient to reap harvest from one whole acre, enough to feed an Andean family of ten for an entire year.

Quinoa finds drought ideal, loves hot sun, and prefers soil that is sandy, alkaline and considered poor for growing any other food crops. The extremely thin air at the high Andean altitudes allows more of the sun's radiation to affect plants growing in high elevations. Quinoa has adapted perfectly with calcium oxalate crystals contained within its leaves that permit the plant to retain adequate moisture.

The average altiplano rainfall of about 10" occurs in the spring. Bolivia experienced two years of severe drought in the early1980s and lost a large percentage of its crops of potatoes, barley, vegetables, fruits, and wheat. Quinoa not only survived the drought, but actually produced larger than normal crops during that period with less than 3 1/2" of rain.