Orach, Atriplex hortensis, is also known as arrach, mountain spinach and saltbush, and is from a genus of food plants that have been used by humans since Mesolithic times. Orach is a tall (to 1m) erect-growing annual plant which can have green, red or white foliage, but the red form is the most decorative. This annual grows delicious tender, juicy leaves if planted in a good rich, well-drained soil in an open sunny positions. Plant seed all year round in most regions, or just autumn in the tropics and spring in really cool regions. Pick young leaves and shoots which have a mild chard-like flavour with added salt. Eat them raw in salads, or cook new or old leaves by steaming or stir frying. They are also used to make a delicious slightly sour soup and can be boiled with pasta to turn it pink.
The red flowers and seeds grow in drooping spikes from the top of the plant and look fabulous in Autumn. Pick the seeds and use them to grow microgreens right through winter or just wait until self-sown seedlings appear in spring when you can pick the really young seedlings and add them to smoothies. Once plants have gone to seed, the leaves become more bitter and less palatable. In Australia the closely related native coast saltbush, Atriplex cinerea, was an important vegetable eaten by the early settlers. In 1807 a famine caused the new settlers to rely on coast saltbush to stave off starvation. In New South Wales this saltbush was known as Botany Bay greens.
By: Penny Woodward
First published: May 2014