709 Atriplex hortensisCommon Names: orach, orache, mountain spinach, French spinach, arrach Family: Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot Family)
Orach is usually grown in the vegetable garden for its tender, spinachlike leaves, but some gardeners know it as a colorful foliage plant in the flower bed. There are several varieties and cultivars; some produce flower stalks up to 6 ft (1.8 m) tall, and others stay less than 2 ft (0.6 m) tall at maturity. The leaves can be green, yellowish-green, red or purple, with matching, usually unbranched, stems. The leaves are triangular or arrowhead shaped, 5-7 in (13-18 cm) long and some forms have marginal teeth. As the days begin to lengthen in summer, orach bolts, producing an erect, branched stalk the bears many tiny inconspicuous, petal-less, wind pollinated flowers. These give way to flattened, papery husk-like bracts about a quarter-inch across, each of which encloses a seed. Cornucopia II lists 10 cultivars available from American seed companies. The Plume types have been selected for use as ornamentals.
Orach probably is native to western Asia, but has become a naturalized weed in much of Europe and northern North America. It has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region as a garden vegetable for more than 4000 years. Today orach is most popular in central Europe.
CultureOrach is easy to grow in poor, sandy soils. It is very tolerant of salty and alkaline soils. Light: Orach does best and produces the best color when grown in full sun. Moisture: Regular garden watering is best, but orach can tolerate drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 11. Orach is a cool season crop, grown much like spinach. It is planted in winter in USDA zones 8B-11, and in early spring in more northern zones. Orach tolerates moderate frosts. Propagation: Orach is grown from seed; plant the entire husk (which contains a single seed) about an inch deep and thin seedlings to about 6 in (15 cm) apart. Plant every three or four weeks to insure a continuous supply of young, tender leaves (at least until it gets too hot).
Harvest orach leaves as needed, beginning a month or two after planting. Cook orach like spinach (Spinacea oleracea) - that is very briefly!. The taste is similar, but the texture is a little less succulent and mucilaginous. The French traditionally mix orach with sorrel, which by itself is too sour for most tastes. The colorful leaves of the red and purple varieties brighten up fresh garden salads. Use the red and purple varieties in annual flower beds and borders.
Orach is easier to grow than spinach; it is more tolerant of heat, cold and drought. The red varieties are unusual among red vegetables in that they do not lose their color when cooked. This is a great annual for the edible flower bed.
Steve Christman 5/27/00; updated 9/21/03