The scene was the annual seed swap at the Sorenson Center about eight years ago. This guy had a large bag of reddish seeds that resembled parsnip seeds, only they weren’t. “They came from Southern Utah. Taste like spinach,” he said. Always on the lookout for drought-tolerant plants, I thought, “Why not give them a try?”
So I took them home and settled them in a planter box, covered with about a quarter-inch of great soil. I watered them. They grew a piddling three inches tall that year, but made some seeds, which happened to fall onto small stones on top of a weed cloth. I forgot about this failed experiment with this silly plant that supposedly tasted like spinach.
The next year, those forgotten seeds germinated and resulted in five-ft. tall super-productive plants with leaves that tasted like spinach!
Orach, a member of the amaranth family, has many names: saltbush, mountain spinach, French spinach, giant lambsquarters. It was once a popular edible before spinach came onto the scene. But it has a lot more going for it than spinach.
Orach comes in stunning purple, rich green and all shades in between. It is wildly nutritious, being high in vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium and protein.
Just broadcast the seeds any time of the year and when they are ready, they will germinate, just like a weed. (It is considered a weed by some because it reproduces aggressively if allowed to go to seed.) The orach specimen in the picture grew from seedstossed on a bare hillside at the Salt Lake City Krishna Temple in late February of this year.
The two big advantages that edible “weeds” like orach and common lambsquarter have over cultivated spinach and lettuce, in my opinion, are that they are viable food in the spring through early fall, and they don’t get bitter even as they are producing seeds. They also will grow in any type of soil, require very little water and just laugh at the idea of fertilizer.
Anyone can grow orach!
Orach seed will be available this fall at the Krishna Temple food forest. Stay tuned for details.