Orach: planting, care & harvest


I am a student of agricultural sciences and a real country kid. At home, I love tending my small vegetable garden and spending time out in nature. When not outdoors, I love to write. Beyond gardening and writing, however, I am particularly passionate about wildlife.

Favourite fruit: currants and raspberries
Favourite vegetables: salsify, savoy cabbage and potatoes

How and when to plant orach in your own garden? What should be considered when caring for, propagating and harvesting the plant and what can it be used for?

Orach leaves close to the ground
Orach was long considered a weed [Photo: Slatan/ Shutterstock.com]

For a long time, orach was considered a noxious weed that only complicated gardening. Today, however, we know that the garden orache is more useful than one might think. This undemanding leafy vegetable is a real winner in the garden, not only due to its uncomplicated cultivation, but also because of its taste and nutritional quality.

Orach: characteristics and origin

The orach (Atriplex hortensis) is widespread and accordingly has many names: In addition to “garden orache” “French spinach” and “mountain spinach”, it is also known as “red orache” or simply as “orach”.

A member of the foxtail family (Amaranthaceae), orach is closely related to crops we are familiar with such as true spinach (Spinacia oleracea), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), and beet (Beta vulgaris). The garden orache probably originated in the Near East and the Orient, but quickly found its way to Europe, where it was valued by the ancient Romans and Greeks as a food and medicinal plant and was first described in 400 BC. The Romans and Greeks also brought the garden orache to Central Europe and Germany, where it was on the menu until the Middle Ages.

It was not until the discovery and cultivation of true spinach that orach was slowly pushed out of kitchen gardens. Today,it can still be found as a wild plant throughout Europe and in Central Asia as far away as China, but it is often considered a weed. It has high site tolerance and low nutrient requirements, which is why it occurs as a “weed” or wild weed everywhere in natural areas.

Bright purple flowering orach
Orachs can grow up to 2.5 m tall [Photo: PhotoMik/ Shutterstock.com]

Unlike its relatives, garden orache does not form a basal rosette of leaves. Instead, the plant grows continuously in height, so that in the course of its life it reaches a stately height of up to 2.5 metres. The arrow-shaped, triangular or oblong-ovate leaves of garden orache are alternate on the stem and grow to about 5 to 25 centimetres long. They have smooth or slightly serrated edges. The inconspicuous red or green flowers of the garden orache stand together in flowerheads and are pollinated by wind or insects.

Tip: The annual plant can be quickly confused with the closely related and very common white goosefoot (Chenopodium album). However, the latter is characterized by a white coating on the leaves, while the orach forms green, sometimes red, yellow or even purple colours.

Sage-green fuzzy leaves of white goosefoot
White goosefoot, for which orach is easily mistaken, has a distinctive white coating on the leaves [Photo: aga7ta/ Shutterstock.com]

The best varieties

Even though the garden orache has not been grown commercially for a long time, it is still possible to differentiate between different cultivars. Roughly speaking, orach is divided into various selections, which are distinguished by their colours. The best known and most common variant is the green garden orache, which is characterized by dark green, rather round and smooth-edged leaves. Yellow garden orache is notable for its light green, sometimes almost yellow-looking leaves. Red forms of garden orache rarely occur in nature, but are extremely popular in horticulture because of their special appearance. Their colour intensity is only topped by the purple garden orache.

In addition to this rough classification, which is almost exclusively based on the colour intensity of the garden orache, the plant is also divided into different species and cultivars. These stand out from each other not only in appearance and size, but also in their properties as a useful plant. We have summarized the most popular garden orache cultivars and their properties for you here:

  • ˈRubinrote Gartenmeldeˈ: Variety with bright red leaves; soft, slightly fleshy leaves; purple colour remains when cooked; also suitable as an ornamental plant.
  • ˈGelbe Mondseerˈ: Popular edible carnation with large, light green leaves; very vigorous variety that readily goes to seed; especially very suitable for cultivation as a crop.
  • ˈBerndorfer Grüne Meldeˈ: Large, fleshy leaves with excellent flavor; new sowings germinate poorly, optimally propagate in self-seeding.
  • ˈOpéraˈ: Pretty, green-purple leaves with wonderful flavor; long harvestable and very productive.
  • ˈSchwarzwälder Butterkrautˈ: Traditional variety from the Black Forest; rapid growth and ripening with high leaf mass yield.
Red leaves of red orach plant
Red orach is an extremely ornamental plant [Photo: golubka57/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing orach

Low requirements and hardly any care needed: orach is ideally suited as a border plant or gap filler in the vegetable patch, making it an asset to any garden. Especially its good suitability as part of a mixed culture ensures that the garden orache finds a place almost in every bed. Suitable neighbors are, for example, potatoes and cabbage species, but also with legumes such as peas or beans, the garden orache gets along well. In cultivation, garden orache shows similar to the spinach, but is considered a little less complicated.

The right location

Finding the right location for the vegetable is not difficult. In general, the plant has only low requirements for its location, its cultivation is possible in almost any bed. While sunny, humus-rich sites that are not too dry are preferred, garden oraches can often thrive in partial shade without problems. Although orach can be cultivated almost in any location, you should still always pay attention to a diverse crop rotation in the garden. For a maximum of three years, garden orache or its close relatives should be grown in the same place. After that, a change is necessary so that the soil remains vital in the long term and is not burdened one-sidedly.

Orach planted amongst other plants
Orach is also well-suited for mixed cultivation [Photo: Cristina Ionescu/ Shutterstock.com]

How to sow garden orache

The cultivation of orach is almost as uncomplicated as the selection of a suitable location. Between March and July, garden orache can be grown from seed directly in the open ground, pre-planting in pots is not necessary. So that each plant has enough space for its development, the ideal distance between plants is 25 cm. In addition, care should be taken that the seeds are spread at a depth of 2 cm – only in this way is reliable germination possible. As a rule, prior fertilisation of the soil is not necessary, because the garden orache is a particularly undemanding plant. Only in very humus-poor, very sandy soils is it recommended to enhance the soil with a high-quality plant soil, such as Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. In this way, the yield and vitality of the plants can be increased.

Tip: For those who want to continuously harvest small amounts of garden orache throughout the summer, plant a little seed every three to four weeks to grow new plants.

Orach seedling with red-tinged leaves
When sowing, make sure each plant has enough room [Photo: greenair/ Shutterstock.com]

Plant care

Overall, orach is considered very easy to care for. However, it also needs a little attention now and then to develop optimally. In particular, attention must be paid to the space requirements of the plant: Since the adult garden orache reaches a stately size, the bed may need to be thinned out after emergence by removing young plants that are too crowded.

In addition, it is necessary to pay attention to a sufficient supply of nutrients, because only in this way the garden orache can bring a rich harvest. Although the nutrient requirements are rather low, the application of some fertiliser is highly recommended in depleted and nutrient-poor soils. Caution is advised with mineral fertilisers: orach is often very sensitive to a high supply of nitrogen, with sudden susceptibility to diseases and pests. Therefore, plant-based fertilisers with a slow-flowing release of nitrogen are better suited, as this minimizes the risk of overfertilisation. In this case, for example, the Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is recommended.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
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On hot, dry days, you should also make sure that the plants have an adequate supply of water to maintain their vitality.
In addition, you should loosen the soil between the garden oraches by regular hoeing and remove weeds. This can further increase the yield of the garden orache.

Tip: If you regularly harvest your orach, pruning will encourage it to keep branching. Thus, the total yield of the plant can be increased.

Propagating orach

If you do not want to buy new seeds every year, you can simply make use of the orach’s self-propagation. If you let individual plants grow to seed maturity, the seeds distribute themselves in the bed, where they germinate again in the spring. However, the disadvantage of this method is that you cannot determine the amount or location of plants next year. An alternative that grants more control over orach propagation is to collect the mature seed heads. These, stored in a dry, cool and dark place, can germinate for up to three years. In this way, they can be resown next year at will.

Numerous orach seed heads
You can quite easily collect orach seed heads to sow the seeds the following season [Photo: Sunbunny Studio/ Shutterstock.com]

Removing garden orache

Due to its rapid reproduction and high undemanding nature, orach can spread rapidly in the garden. No wonder, then, that many consider the garden orache not only a tasty beneficial plant, but an unwelcome guest that competes with their other plants for space, light and nutrients. If you have a problem with orach or want to prevent uncontrolled reproduction, timing is everything. Pull out the plants, roots and all, before they begin to ripen seeds. Once the seeds are mature, it is difficult to stop the spread and you will have to deal with the removal of garden orache again the next year.

Keeping garden orache under control with herbicides, on the other hand, is not recommended. They can negatively affect not only garden orache, but also other plants and pollute the environment.

Tip: For those who want orach for their bed, but are afraid of uncontrolled spread, opt for the red garden orache. The latter rarely seeds itself, making it a good option if you don’t want it spreading in the garden.

Orach: harvest and use

Just two months after sowing, the time has come and the orach leaves can finally be harvested. The plants, which at this point are already about 30 to 40 cm high, are cut here about 20 cm above the ground with a sharp knife. But do not worry: the radical pruning does not harm the plants. On the contrary, like spinach, garden orache subsequently sprouts again and can be cut again a few weeks later. Often, repeated harvesting even promotes sprouting and branching, so that the yield increases even more. Incidentally, the optimal time for harvesting is before flowering. Here, the aroma and nutrient content in the leaves is the highest. Harvesting is possible until the first frost.

Person harvesting orach leaves
You can harvest orach several times [Photo: Slatan/ Shutterstock.com]

The use of plant parts in the kitchen depends largely on the age of the plant. In young plants, the entire above-ground green part of the plant is edible. However, in older, larger plants, parts of the stem may already be woody, making the stem unsuitable for food preparation. In addition, older leaves from the lower part of the plant may also be less palatable. Nevertheless, you do not have to throw them away: they make wonderful food for small animals. In contrast, the young leaves from the shoot tips are not only particularly tasty, but also edible raw. Above all, they are therefore popular in salads or smoothies. Otherwise, orach is prepared like spinach, to which it also comes closest in taste. In particular, it is popular as a classic steamed vegetable, but also as a quiche or in soups or sauces.

Garden orache is not only known as a food, however: In naturopathy, too, the plant is said to have a variety of properties as a medicinal plant. The vegetable is thus said to be effective in urinary tract infections, stimulate metabolism and relieve nervous exhaustion. Applied externally, it is said to reduce gouty conditions. However, garden orache is considered particularly healthy because of its high nutrient content. Thanks to high amounts of vitamin C, magnesium, calcium and iron, it is considered significantly healthier than its relatives spinach and chard known to us. In addition, its comparatively low oxalic acid content makes it more tolerable for people with kidney problems or rheumatism.

Tip: For those who cannot immediately use their harvest, orach (similar to spinach) can also easily be frozen.

Bunches of orach leaves on the kitchen counter
Orach can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen [Photo: MAD.vertise/ Shutterstock.com]