Sea Orache (Atriplex prostrata) Identification

The Oraches / spring / summer / edible

There are 5 Oraches in Francis Rose’s ‘The Wild Flower Key’. All are edible and delicious, as long as you’re sure they’re Oraches. All live near the coastline or salt estuaries, often growing on sand. Never leave a patch of green on a beach unheeded!


Common Name:

Member of the Goosefoot family, which can be a helpful ID aide memoire due to the shape of the leaves. Spear-leaved Orache, Babington’s Orache, Frosted Orache, Common Orache, Early Orache


Latin Name:

Atriplex prostrata (Spear-leaved), A. glabriuscula (Babington’s) etc.


Season:

Spring and Summer for the leaves, with a second flush in late Summer/early Autumn.


Could be Confused with:

Fat hen (Chenopodium album), which grows inland and you may be familiar with as a garden weed. Also good eating! Little can be confused with Orache if you’re at the coast.


Range and Distribution:

Mainly in the maritime North and Western areas of the British Isles and up into Norway and Scandinavia. Elsewhere it is considered more common to find it inland.


Conservation Considerations:

Relatively common, but can grow sparsely so be considerate and allow the seeds to spread.


Habitat:

Coastal habitats, often found growing on the sand itself.

Physical Characteristics for Sea Orache:

Growing to a meter tall, this fleshy annual plant has distinctive arrow (or, if wider, goosefoot shaped) leaves, sometimes with reddish venation.

Stefan.lefnaer, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Leaves

The leaves sometimes appear frosted as if with icing sugar. The stalks snap easily when the plant is young and can be ringed with red, depending on the species.

Salicyna, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Jcomeau ictx, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Seeds

The seeds have a distinctive spiky, geometric shape and are usually red.

Stefan.lefnaer, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Edible Uses:

Use the leaves like spinach, a cultivated relative, but more sparingly as the plants can grow quite sparsely. When the seeds are young and soft, they can be used as a sprinkle if harvested sparingly to allow the plant to regenerate.


Herbal Uses:

Traditionally added to fortifying soups given during convalescence.


Extra Points, Tips and Fun Facts:

It can be used as an intercrop plant to protect more tender crops from wind and sun scorch and is very tolerant of dry conditions. Makes a delicious addition to the salad bowl or to vegetable dishes.

There is also an Orache Moth (Trachea atriplicis), which is an amazing example of woodland camouflage.

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