What is Orach?
A cool season plant, orach is a warm season alternative to spinach that is less likely to bolt. A member of the Chenopodiaceae family, orach (Atriplex hortensis) is also known as Garden Orache, Red Orach, Mountain Spinach, French Spinach and Sea Purslane. It is also sometimes referred to as Salt Bush due to its tolerance for alkaline and saline soils. The name orach is derived from the Latin ‘aurago’ meaning golden herb.
A native of Europe and Siberia, orach is possibly one of the more ancient cultivated plants. It is grown in Europe and the northern plains of the United States as a substitute for spinach either fresh or cooked. The flavor is reminiscent of spinach and is often combined with sorrel leaves. The seeds are also edible and a source of vitamin A. They are ground into a meal and mixed with flour for making breads. Seeds are also used to make a blue dye.
Additional Orach Plant Info
An annual herb, orach comes in four common varieties, with white orach being the most common.
- White orach has more pale green to yellow leaves rather than white.
- There is also red orach with dark red stems and leaves. A beautiful, edible, ornamental red orach is Red Plume, which can attain heights of between 4-6 feet.
- Green orach, or Lee’s Giant orach, is a vigorous varietal with an angular branching habit and rounder leaves of dark green.
- Less commonly grown is a copper colored orach variety.
On the most commonly grown white orach, leaves are arrow shaped, soft and pliable with slight serration and are 4-5 inches long by 2-3 inches across. Growing white orach plants attain a height of between 5-6 feet accompanied by a seed stalk that can reach up to 8 feet in height. The blossoms have no petals and are small, green or red depending upon the cultivar grown. A wealth of flowers appears at the top of the plant. The seeds are small, flat and russet in hue surrounded by a light yellow, leaf-like casing.
How to Grow Orach
Orach is grown much like spinach in USDA zones 4-8. Seeds should be sown in full sun to part shade about 2-3 weeks after the last frost for your area. Sow seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep spaced 2 inches apart in rows a foot to 18 inches apart. With germination temps of between 50-65 degrees F. (10 to 18 C.), seeds should sprout within 7-14 days. Thin the seedlings to 6-12 inches in the row. The thinnings can be eaten, tossed into salads much as any other baby green.
Thereafter, there is little special orach care except to keep the plants moist. Although orach is drought tolerant, the leaves will have better flavor if kept irrigated. This delicious plant tolerates both alkaline soil and salt and is frost tolerant as well. Orach does beautifully as a container planting too.
Harvest the tender leaves and stems when plants are 4-6 inches in height, about 40-60 days after sowing. Continue to harvest the young leaves as they mature, leaving the older leaves on the plant. Pinch flower buds to encourage branching and continued production of new leaves. Successive plantings can be made until the weather warms and, in cooler climates, mid-summer plantings can be made for a fall harvest.