Natural Healing — Huaútli

Photo credit: Kurt Stüber

Did you know that May is National Amaranth month? And did you know that amaranth is a native Mexican plant with oodles of health benefits?

Let’s dive into the history a bit. The Amaranthus species has three varieties cultivated as a grain. These are Amaranthus cruentus (Blood amaranth), Amaranthus hypochondriacus (Prince’s feather), and Amaranthus caudatus (Loves-lies-bleeding). The first two are native Mexican plants while Amaranthus caudatus was originally native to Peru.

Amaranthus cruentus is huauhtli in Nahuatl and known by that term’s variation huaútli throughout Mexico. In Maya, it is xtes or tez, alparie in Purépecha, guegui in the language of the Raramuri, xidha in Otomí and wa’ve in Huichol. Other names for varieties of this plant include quelite, bledo, and quintonil all of which are also used to identify plants in unrelated species, making them problematic for identification purposes. Amaranto is another moniker gaining popularity.

The importance this grain once held in the prehispanic is seen by the number of names in Nahuatl for specific varieties. Black amaranth was tlilhuauhtli. Xochihuauhtli was yellow amaranth. Wild amaranth was tezca huauhtli. Another type of amaranth was michihuauhtli. And texouauhtli was the word for blue amaranth. This language precision was natural considering approximately 80 percent of the prehispanic indigenous diet was made up of this grain. Huaútli was cooked, popped, or ground into flour. It was used for atole, tamales, and tortillas. The tender leaves were boiled as a vegetable.

Discoveries of this grain in the kitchens and places of worship at an excavation site in Tepetitlán, an area near Tula, further demonstrate its importance. Tula is not an area where maize thrives because of altitude, frost layer, and poor soil quality. Instead, huaútli was the main crop for the area, especially valued during drought periods as it could be stored in clay pots for long periods of time without rotting. 

According to the Mendoza Codex, newborn babies were bathed with leaf infusions. Amaranth paste was used to make symbolic objects presented to a new baby to help identify its place in society, such as a bow and arrow for a hunter, a scribe’s utensils for the priesthood, and so on. 

Amaranto seeds formed into a ball with agave honey called tzoalli was a common travel food. Mixed with blood it was an offering to the gods. Warriors ate it to increase their strength. Today, this recipe is known as alegrías (joys) and is found in traditional sweet selections throughout the country and during the Día de Muertos festivities molded into skulls. 

Tzoalli was vilified by Spanish priests after witnessing the festivities of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, the principal deity of war, sun and human sacrifice, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan, which was celebrated in what is now December. Among processions, dancing, singing, praying, and human sacrifice, a representation of the god was formed from tzoalli. At the conclusion of the holiday, this was cut into small pieces and celebrants partook of a piece in a communal ceremony known as “the eating of the gods.” The Catholic Church outlawed the cultivation of huaútli, punishing anyone who planted it by cutting off their hands and anyone who ate it with death. 

Amaranthus is an extremely adaptable crop, heat/drought-resistant, with no major disease issues, and easy to grow. It is full of iron, calcium, phosphorous, folic acid, manganese, selenium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C. 

It has a higher protein concentration than most other cereal grains and is considered a preventative food source for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Infant formulas made with Amaranthus cruentus are nutritionally rich. Made into flour, it is a tasty alternative to wheat products

In addition to nutritional and spiritual elements, huaútli has medicinal value. A tea infusion made from the flowers is prescribed as a daily heart tonic. Studies have demonstrated its anti-hypertensive and antioxidant properties. It is also antifungal and anti-inflammatory

Traditionally, a tea infusion made from the leaves is prescribed for diarrhea and stomach pain. For chest and back pain, the infusion is made from the flowers. For menstrual pain, the flowers are boiled in chicken broth. Leaf poultices are applied for cold sores and skin infections.


  • ⅛ cup of water
  • 1 cone of piloncillo (brown sugar)
  • ¼ cup of honey 
  • ½  limón juice
  • 1 cup + 3 tablespoons of amaranth seeds
  • 1 cup of a variety of seeds, nuts, and dried fruit (optional)

In a skillet over medium heat, toast the amaranth seeds until they puff up and are evenly browned, about 10 minutes. If adding nuts or pumpkins seeds, add them to the amaranth and toast briefly.

In another pot, combine the water and piloncillo. Stir over low heat until the piloncillo dissolves. Add the honey and mix again. Then add the limón juice and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. If adding dried fruit, do so now. 

Pour the liquid mixture over the toasted seeds and mix thoroughly. Spread the combined ingredients in a pan lined with wax paper. Allow it to set for 2 hours. Cut into bars or use shaped cookie cutters.


Interested in natural remedies? Uncover herbal remedies from traditional Mexican sources for healing and wellness in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.


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Filed under Health, Homesteading, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing

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