Herb: Orach

Latin name: Atriplex hortensis

Family: Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family)

Medicinal use of Orach:

The leaves are diuretic, emetic and purgative. They are also said to be a stimulant to the metabolism and an infusion is used as a spring tonic and a remedy for tiredness and nervous exhaustion. They have been suggested as a folk remedy for treating plethora and lung ailments. The leaves are said to be efficacious when used externally in the treatment of gout. The seeds, mixed with wine, are said to cure yellow jaundice. They also excite vomiting. The 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 tumours, especially of the throat.

Description of the plant:


180 cm
(6 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Arable land, waste and disturbed ground, shingle etc.

Edible parts of Orach:

Leaves - raw or cooked. Used like spinach, they have a bland flavour and are traditionally mixed with sorrel leaves in order to modify the acidity of the latter. Another report says that the flavour is stronger than spinach. Seed - cooked. It can be ground into a meal and used in soups etc or be mixed with flour when making bread. The seed is said to be a good source of vitamin A. The seed is also said to contain some saponins. See the notes above on toxicity. The seed is small and fiddly to harvest and use.

Other uses of the herb:

A blue dye is obtained from the seed. The plant is a potential source of biomass. Yields of 14 tonnes per hectare have been achieved 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 tonnes biomass as by-product, for potential conversion to liquid or gaseous fuels.

Propagation of Orach:

Seed - sow March to August in situ, only just covering the seed. Germination is usually good and rapid.

Cultivation of the herb:

Arable land, waste and disturbed ground, shingle etc.

Known hazards of Atriplex hortensis:

No member of this genus contains any toxins, all have more or less edible leaves. However, if grown with artificial fertilizers, they may concentrate harmful amounts of nitrates in their leaves. The seed contains saponins. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.