Weird Things You Can Grow: Orach!

weird things

The word ‘Orach’ is so weird, it seems like I should have a pun in-hand for it, but I actually don’t. Actually, I’m never confident I’m saying it right. It’s unsettling in that way.

Orach is from the quinoa family, but is used mostly like spinach. It’s actually related to Good King Henry, previous star of Weird Things You Can grow, as well. I’ve been growing it in my garden for several years and I am a big fan. I’m probably the president of the Orach Fan Club. At present, the only other member seems to be Barbara Damrosch, writing for the Washington Post:

when I sliced the foliage into ribbons and added it to salads, the effect was dazzling. I lined platters with whole leaves, so much easier to spread flat than other greens, and made a colorful frame for pallid foods such as potato salad.

The Washington Post – Spinach’s Brilliant Cousin
(this whole article is awesome actually. I’m thinking next year I’ll try to track down some of the variety she’s writing about, ‘Aurora’.)

What I love about orach:

  • it is a dependable, but not out-of-control, self-seeder. I have not bothered starting any from seed at all (and certainly not indoors – it’s a waste of time, I’ve found) past the first year of growing it; I just dig up a few of the self-sowed seedlings and put them wherever I want them in my garden. The photo above was taken a few days ago, and is of the bed where orach was growing last year. These plants all self-seeded and I’ve been eating the odd leaf off them for several weeks already.
  • As well, it forms papery seed husks that look cool and are easy to collect in fall, which makes it an easy plant to sow and an easy one to share. I don’t even bother cleaning or separating the seed, I just cut the tops off the dry plants and put them in Ziploc bags. Then I try to give them away to my coworkers and people from the internet.
  • It has a slightly salty flavour (it’s also called saltbush) that is tasty in salads. Aside from that, it doesn’t have a very strong taste.
  • You can also cook it in much the same ways you would use spinach.
  • It is purple. It’s fun to eat things that are purple. Except beets. Those are gross. (It comes in other colours, but why would you want other colours when you can have purple?)
  • Unlike lots of other greens, orach won’t let you down when it gets hot. I’ve found Edmonton’s climate not all that conducive to growing most greens, actually. Our spring and fall are too short, and in between the weather’s too hot – lots of greens sprout, grow a little and then go straight to seed. Orach is actually a cool-season vegetable, and it does bolt like other greens – but when it does, its leaves are still ok to eat in my opinion. (Unlike some greens, whose seeds get very bitter or very spicy when the plant has gone to seed.)
  • It grow very high (often a spindly 5 feet or more in my garden) but doesn’t spread much horizontally. It’s easy to find room for a tall, skinny plant in a pot or in the back of a bed.
  • Did I mention that it is purple? One of my favourite colours for “greens” (purples). Honestly, you will be picking some Pinterest-worthy salads with this one. Make your facebook friends jealous! Make sure you use hashtags like “#fromscratch” and “#grewitmyself” to make them feel extra-bad about the Big Mac they’re eating.

I’m not actually sure where I got my original seeds, but I have a feeling they were Magenta Organic Orach from West Coast Seeds.

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