The orache, or “orache of the gardens”, also called “Belle-Dame”, “Bonne Dame” or even “false spinach”, was once widely cultivated.
Originally from the East and introduced to Europe by the Crusaders, it was gradually dethroned by spinach.
To the point of becoming a “forgotten vegetable”…
But fairly easy to grow, fast growing and summer harvestable, orach is slowly but surely coming back into fashion.
And if I am to believe the many requests I get on this subject, many of you passionate gardeners grow them or want to do so.
But before planting it in your vegetable garden, let’s get to know this ancient plant better.
oracle (Atriplex hortensis) is part of the Chenopodiaceae (or Amaranthaceae) family, like spinach, amaranth or lamb’s quarters (wild plants that are also edible).
Under favorable conditions, false spinach can reach more than 2 m in height.
Tuinorach is characterized in particular by:
- long erect and furrowed stems (ie marked with furrows, more or less broad furrows, parallel to each other)
- rush leaves (in the form of spear points) at the end of long petioles
- dense apical inflorescences, composed of small flowers
The color of the Belle-Dame varies according to the variety, the soil or even the stage of development: green, red, purple, pink… this applies to the stems as well as the leaves or the inflorescences.
In addition to its culinary interest, orach is a beautiful plant.
In addition, some gardeners simply grow it as an ornamental plant.
When I started gardening, you only found blond orach on the market.
But thanks to organic seed companies, red orach (traditionally grown in certain mountainous regions) and green orach are available again; each of these varieties itself includes several cultivars.
As always, I invite you to test different varieties to select the ones that appreciate your growing conditions (soil and climate).
Orach growing conditions
Although not particularly fond of drought, garden orach adapts to all climates.
The “Belle Dame” likes a sunny position, but can also be grown in partial shade without any problems.
Orach is a hardy plant that grows well in all soil types.
But a humus-rich soil ensures good harvests.
Growing garden orach
Orach can be sown from March (even when it is still cold) to September.
In warm regions, however, emergence in summer can be tricky.
In this situation, too, I recommend sowing in spring (March to June) and then possibly at the end of summer (September) to harvest young shoots.
Also note that the orache flowers quite quickly in the summer. If you want to harvest all summer, sow staggered (about every 3 weeks).
Orache can be sown in rows:
- draw a shallow furrow (1 or 2 cm)
- place the seeds, one at a time, about ten cm apart
- close the furrow by simply returning the discarded soil (if it is fine enough), with potting soil or a mixture of soil or potting soil and some mature compost
- slightly weight (tamp down), for example with the back of a rake
- water abundantly (but without thinning the soil) and keep the soil moist until emergence (this takes about ten days)
- at the stage of 4 true leaves, thin out to 40-50 cm distance between 2 plants (you can transplant the removed young plants or consume their leaves!)
You can also sow in bags:
- dig small holes, 1 cm or 2 cm deep (when it is warm, preferably 2 cm, the soil stays moist more easily than on the surface)
- place 3 seeds, a few cm apart, in these holes
- close the bags (as when sowing in rows)
- a bit perpendicular
- water abundantly and keep the soil moist until emergence
- at the stage of 3 or 4 true leaves, keep only one plant per bag
Maintenance of an orchard
We’ve seen it: orache is a hardy plant.
Hoe once or twice at the beginning of cultivation.
When the plant is 15-20 cm high, mulch…
Although it is a drought tolerant plant, I recommend watering regularly (every 4-5 days in light soil and once a week or so in heavier soil) to prevent premature shoots and for mild flavor (a bit strong if the plant has no water).
You can also pinch the ends of the stems as soon as the flowers appear to promote the development of many leaves and to delay the sprouting.
Pests and Diseases
As far as I know, diseases are rare (but don’t hesitate to leave a comment at the bottom of this article if your orach crops are prone to certain diseases…).
On the other hand, slugs appreciate young shoots.
That is why I advise you just above not to mulch the crop right away (an already developed leaf is less tasty for these sweet gastropods).
Aphids can also be attracted… a balanced fertilizer, without excess nitrogen, is a good prevention to prevent invasions of aphids.
Harvesting and Consuming Orach
Orach is rich in vitamins C and K and in mineral salts.
The harvest can start about 1 1/2 months after sowing and will last all summer (if you have made several staggered seedlings).
Depending on your needs, harvest the young leaves, which are more tender, starting at the bottom and moving up as the stem develops (but always leave the leaves on top to allow photosynthesis to take place…).
You can also harvest the entire stem when it is about 20cm high (best for late summer planting).
When the flower buds appear, the leaves become harder… and therefore less good.
But don’t hesitate to let a few plants reach maturity (well formed and mature seeds)… the plant will spontaneously reseed itself the following year…
As with salads, it is better to harvest the leaves of the orache in a cool place in the morning (the leaves, sips from the night’s humidity, keep better).
The leaves of “false spinach” should be eaten quickly after harvest (they wilt quickly).
However, it is possible to freeze them.
Young orach leaves can be eaten raw, in salads.
More developed, they are prepared like spinach as a side dish to many dishes or even as a pie filling for example.
Kids often prefer orach over spinach because it’s sweeter than the latter…
So what are you waiting for to grow this “forgotten vegetable” yourself?