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 bread. Seeds are also used to make 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 to 6 feet (1-2 m.).
- 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 to 5 inches (10-13 cm.) long by 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm.) across. Growing white orach plants attain a height of between 5 to 6 feet (1.5-2 m.) accompanied by a seed stalk that can reach up to 8 feet (2 m.) 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 through 8. Seeds should be sown in full sun to part shade about two to three weeks after the last frost for your area. Sow seeds ¼ to ½ inch (6 mm. to 1 cm.) deep spaced 2 inches (5 cm.) apart in rows a foot to 18 inches (31-46 cm.) apart. With germination temps of between 50 and 65 degrees F. (10-18 C.), seeds should sprout within 7 to 14 days. Thin the seedlings to 6 to 12 inches (15-31 cm.) 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 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) in height, about 40 to 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, midsummer plantings can be made for a fall harvest.
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Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.
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