Garden Orache - Atriplex hortensis


"Atriplex hortensis is a ANNUAL growing to 1.8 m (6ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to August, and the seeds ripen in September. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline and saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure." [PFAF]

Status: Exotc [E-flora]2

General: Annual herb from a taproot; stems decumbent to erect, freely branched, mostly 0.6-2.5 m tall/long. [IFBC-E-flora]

Leaves: Lower leaves opposite, upper leaves alternate, stalked or stalkless, broadly lanceolate to egg-shaped, 5-20 cm long, 2-10 cm wide, blunt to arrowhead-shaped at the base, smooth or slightly toothed or undulate, covered with a whitish mealy substance when young but becoming glabrous and greenish with maturity. [IFBC-E-flora]

Flowers: Inflorescence of terminal or axillary spikes or panicles; pistillate flowers of 3 kinds, one with a small calyx and no bracteoles, one with small rounded bracteoles and the third with no calyx but 2 large, 6-12 mm wide, rounded bracteoles, these without teeth, veins merging above the base. [IFBC-E-flora]

Fruits: Membranous pericarps; seeds of the pistillate flowers without bracteoles, horizontal, small, black, those of the pistillate flowers with more or less heart-shaped bracteoles or the bracteoles rounded at the base, vertical, black or brown and about 2 mm wide. [IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat / Range

Mesic to dry roadsides and waste places in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; infrequent garden escape in S BC; introduced from Asia. [IFBC-E-flora]


"No member of this genus contains any toxins, all have more or less edible leaves. However, if grown with artificial fertilizers, they may concentrate harmful amounts of nitrates in their leaves. The seed contains saponins[240]. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[K]." [PFAF]


Orach is one of the plants with the ability to absorb selenium (a toxic, nonmetallic element) found in soils from Cretaceous or Eocene shales. In South Dakota and Wyoming, livestock poisonings have occurred from animals over-grazing plants that have absorbed this element. Though selenium toxicity has not been a notable problem in the Pacific Northwest, foragers (especially those that travel to those areas) should be aware of the possible toxicity and eat orach in moderation only. [Schofield]

Edible Uses

Seed: Eaten raw or roasted. Ground into flour for making breads and gruel. Late summer to early fall. [Schofield] "Cooked. It can be ground into a meal and used in soups etc or be mixed with flour when making bread[177, 183]. The seed is said to be a good source of vitamin A[240]. The seed is also said to contain some saponins [240]. See the notes above on toxicity. The seed is small and fiddly to harvest and use." [PFAF]

Greens: Burned and the ashes used as a substitute for baking powder. [Schofield] In good soil, the leaves (especially those of Atriplex hortensis) grow large and make a satisfactory spinach substitute [Schofield].

Leaves: Salty leaves that add flavor to wild salads.[Schofield] Boiled as vegetables and the salty cooking water used in corn dishes. [Schofield]

As a spinach and to correct the acidity of sorrel. "Far inferior to spinach".[ModHerbal] "Leaves - raw or cooked[2, 16, 27, 33]. Used like spinach[9], they have a bland flavour and are traditionally mixed with sorrel leaves in order to modify the acidity of the latter[183]. Another report says that the flavour is stronger than spinach[264]." [PFAF]

In French cooking the term pot herb traditionally refers to the six vegetables Atriplex hortensis (orache), Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima (seakale-beet, sea spinach), Lactuca sativa (lettuce), Portulaca oleracea (purslane), Rumex acetosa (sorrel) and Spinacia oleracea (spinach). They are used in the preparation of soups and broths, but because many other vegetables could also be included, the selection is considered arbitrary (Montagne, 1977). [Wickens, EB]

Shoots & Leaves: Spring to summer. [Schofield] Summer " Leaves and young stems, stewed" [Tardio,2006]

Other Uses

Soap: The roots, which contain saponins, were beaten in water as a soap substitute. [Schofield].

Dye: "A blue dye is obtained from the seed[74, 100]." [PFAF]

Biomass: "The plant is a potential source of biomass. Yields of 14 tonnes per hectare have been achieved in the vicinity of Landskrona and Lund, Sweden. Higher yields might be expected farther south. If the leaf-protein were extracted, this should leave more than 13 tonnes biomass as by-product, for potential conversion to liquid or gaseous fuels[269]." [PFAF]

Medicinal Uses

Whole Plant: "Liniments and emollients prepared from the whole plant, like the juice of the plant, are said to be folk remedies for indurations and tumours, especially of the throat[269]." [PFAF]

Insect Stings: The mashed leaves, pulverized roots, and crushed flowers of orache are applied to insect bites and stings to reduce swelling [Schofield].

Fruits: "The fruits are purgative and emetic[269]." [PFAF]

Historical Usage


"Orach is a very easily grown plant, doing equally well in a wide variety of well-drained soils, though rich, moisture-retentive soils give the quick growth that is necessary for the production of tender leaves[33, 37, 200, 269]. Plants require a position in full sun and are tolerant of saline and very alkaline soils[200]. They thrive in any temperate climate, and are drought resistant[269]. Orach is reported to tolerate an annual precipitation of 30 to 140cm, an average annual temperature in the range of 6 to 24°C, and a pH of 5.0 to 8.2[269]. Orach was formerly cultivated for its edible leaves, there are some named varieties[183]. It can be grown as a warm weather substitute for spinach[183]. Some forms of this species have bronze or deep red leaves and are occasionally grown as ornamental plants, their leaves taste the same as the green-leafed forms[K]. Plants are fast-growing[238] and usually self-sow quite freely if the surrounding soil is disturbed by hoeing etc[K]. They tolerate hot weather well, but soon go to seed so successive sowings at 4 weekly intervals are required during the growing season if a continuous supply of leaves is required[269]. Leaves can be harvested 40 - 60 days after sowing the seed[269]. This species is a poor companion plant for potatoes, inhibiting their growth when growing close to them[20]." [PFAF]


"Seed - sow March to August in situ, only just covering the seed[134]. Germination is usually good and rapid[K]." [PFAF]



Page last modified on Thursday, January 10, 2019 6:12 AM