A cool season plant, Orach is a warm season alternative to spinach that is less likely to bolt. Also known as Garden Orach, 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. The flavour is reminiscent of spinach and the seeds are also edible and a source of vitamin A. They are ground into a meal and mixed with flour for making breads.
Orach is grown much like spinach, seeds should be sown in full sun to part shade about 2-3 weeks after the last frost. 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 flavour 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. 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.
My Red Orach Experiment:
Seeds were sowed in May, outdoors but because of the cooler weather, it took just over 2 weeks to sprout. Once the tiny seedlings appeared, they grew fast, going through different phases. First, the leaves were narrow and elongated, quite thick and juicy and a deep red colour. As the Orach plants developed, the new leaves were rounder and thinner and of a lighter shade of red on the outside and green on the inside, almost like 2 sets of different leaves.
As the plants grew taller, the initial narrow, dark red leaves transformed into round, lighter red shade ones, a very interesting process. The leaves even had different taste, the initial ones being crunchier and juicier. When picking the Orach leaves, my hands had purple stains from the juice.
My variety of Orach didn’t grow very tall, about 4 inches (20cm) and it lasted till the beginning of August when it flowered and the plants started looking poorly so I have discarded the Orach and I might try another round of seeds for this year.
It does look lovely in salads, I cannot say it has a distinctive taste or flavour but it is part of the amazing purple foods category with many health benefits.