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Atriplex hortensis L.

Orache, Orach, Mountain Spinach

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Leaves have been used since ancient times as a potherb, a substitute for spinach. Flour of the seeds is an important item in Vitamin A deficiency. Sometimes grown as an ornamental. Plant yields a blue dye similar to indigo.

Folk Medicine

Considered diuretic, emetic, and emollient, orache has been suggested as a folk remedy for plethora and lung ailments. Seeds mixed with wine are said to cure yellow jaundice. They also excite vomiting. Heated with vinegar, honey and salt, orache is used for gout. Fruits are purgative and emetic. Liniments and emollients prepared from the whole plant, like the juice of the plant, are said to be folk remedies for indurations and tumors, especially of the throat.


From looking at analyses of other species of Atriplex, one might conclude that the leaves per 100 g contain ca 17 g protein, 3 g fat, 56 g total carbohydrate, 11 g fiber, 24 g ash, and perhaps 2,000 mg Ca, 150 mg P, 10 mg Fe, 2 mg Cu, 500 mg Mg, 800 mg K, 10 mg Mn, 2 mg b-carotene equivalent (Miller, 1958). Some species of Atriplex are reported to contain the toxins betaine, HCN, saponin, and selenium. (Duke, 1977a)


Coarse annual; stems erect, up to 2.5 m tall, green yellowish or reddish, glabrous; lower leaves somewhat triangular to ovate, subcordate, up to 2 dm long, blunt, with spreading basal lobes, somewhat glaucous, green or purplish, entire or merely denticulate; inflorescence paniculate, of terminal and axillary spikes; male and female flowers on same plant; pistillate flowers of two kinds, some with 3–5 lobed calyx and no bracts, others with 2 subrotund entire bracts, 1–1.5 cm broad and no calyx; fruit conspicuously rounded, entire, shiny membranous; bracteoles 0.5–1.5 cm long, veined; seeds 2–4 mm broad. Fl. Aug.–Oct.


Red-leaved and yellow-leaved (white) forms are grown as ornaments. However, they may be eaten just like the normal green-leaved form. A crimson-leaved form (var. atro-sanguinea or var. rubra) is grown as an ornamental along with Amaranthus-like plants. Vilmorin-Andrieux (1976) mentions white, dark-red, green, copper, and Lee's Giant orache. Reported from the Eurosiberian Center of Diversity, garden orach or cvs thereof is reported to tolerate drought, frost, high pH, heat, sodium or salt, sand and weed. (2n = 18).


Temperate Asia and Europe, wild in the trans-Indus region. Introduced and naturalized in United States and Canada from New England and southern Quebec to Montana and southward. It grows along the seashores from Maine to Virginia, and the succulent leaves are juicy but somewhat impregnated with salt. Often cultivated as a vegetable, and sometimes naturalized in many European countries.


Plants grow equally well in a wide variety of soils, but rich soils give quick growth necessary for tender leaves. Thrives in any temperate climate, and is drought resistant. Ranging from Boreal Moist through Tropical Very Dry Forest Life Zones, garden orach is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3 to 14 dm (mean of 18 cases = 7.1) annual temperature of 6 to 24°C (mean of 18 cases = 11.7) and pH of 5.0 to 8.2 (mean of 17 cases = 7.0) (Duke, 1978, 1979).


Propagated by seed. Seed drilled into open ground in early spring in rows about 60 cm apart. Seedlings are not transplanted but thinned and allowed to stand in the row. Plants are used in their young state. If weather is dry, plants should be irrigated so they will grow quickly. They tolerate hot weather fairly well, but soon go to seed. Monthly successive sowings are therefore desirable.


From sowing seed to harvest of young leaves requires 40–60 days, sometimes less depending on the soil, climate and cultivation. Plants must be grown quickly and leaves picked when young to obtain the best crop.

Yields and Economics

Although orache is grown extensively in Europe and Asia, it is not grown to any extent in America. Because the leaves are picked as they develop or as they are needed, there are few conventional yield data. Carlsson (1980) reports LPC yields of 450 to 800 kg/ha. No data on economic value as it does not enter commercial markets; mostly grown in home gardens. Said to be grown in France, but no indication on a commercial scale.


Carlsson (1980) reports DM (biomass) yields of 14 MT/ha 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 MT biomass as byproduct, for potential conversion to liquid or gaseous fuels.

Biotic Factors

Following fungi are known to attack orache: Cercospora dubia, Chaetodiplodia caulina, Peronospora atriplicis-hortensis, P. effusa, P. litoralis, P. minor, Phoma atriplicina, Ph. longissima, Phyllosticta atriplicis, Septoria atriplicis, Stigmella atriplicis, Stagonospora atriplicis. The bacterium, Bacterium melleum, also attacks plants, as well as the following viruses: Beet mild yellowing, Beet Yellows and Pelargonium leaf-curl. The following nematodes infest orache: Heterodera schachtii and Meloidogyne sp. (Golden, p.c. 1984)


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update December 29, 1997