As the days meander on like a soft summer breeze, the season becomes hotter and hotter, with more intense storms and longer periods without rain. This less hospitable environment takes a toll on our greens, especially on one of our favorites, our beautiful spinach. So bright and cheery, yet only here for such a short time. Starting in May the temps usually reach a point where the spinach gives up and gets tired. Honestly, there are many plants that don’t love Virginia summers. But luckily, small sustainable farms provide plenty of room at the table for more Virginia-tolerant produce items - like orach!
Orach is a distant cousin of beets and amaranth and can be used in place of spinach during the warmer months when spinach is likely to bolt. Not only is orach more heat tolerant, but it’s also able to grow in saltier soils than many greens and is recognizable by its vibrant red hues and its extreme height (some orach plumes can grow up to 4 to 6 feet tall)! Orach has been found to be one of the most ancient cultivated plants and was commonly grown in the Mediterranean and used to dye pasta.
One of the reasons we love spinach so much is that it’s a powerhouse of nutrients. Not to worry though, so is orach! It’s good for so many things including:
Digestion: Orach is actually quite high in fiber. In every one serving (100 grams) there are 11g of fiber. Fiber is extremely helpful at improving digestion, preventing constipation, and providing a healthy fuel source for your beneficial gut microbiota. Fiber also helps stimulate the production of bile acids, which further helps aid in digestion and helps protect your digestive organs such as your colon. While most of us know that fiber helps keep your digestive system regular, it’s important to remember that fiber also helps regulate blood sugar and maintains healthy cholesterol levels.
Packed with minerals: The proteins, minerals, and vitamins retained in orach leaves can help so many different systems from hormonal regulation to supporting necessary enzymatic reactions. Also, the high levels of iron and calcium can help boost your red blood cell creation, circulation, and oxygenation, which is beneficial to the tissues and organ systems throughout your entire body. Additionally, orach is pretty successful at growing in alkaline soils and retains many minerals from the soil in its leaves. This can be an added benefit in the height of the summer sun as these minerals help keep you hydrated.
High in calcium: Just one serving of orach (100 grams) contains 200% of your daily calcium intake requirements! Calcium is a vital component to healthy heart, muscle, and nerve function.
Helps boost your immune system: orach is highly anti-inflammatory due to its high levels of magnesium as well as zinc and vitamin C. These vitamins and minerals help prevent various illnesses brought on by bacterial and viral infections. Additionally, as many of us know, vitamin C is integral to the production of white blood cells, which help fight off foreign pathogens.
Orach is a champion for all of the health reasons listed above, as well as its ability to withstand the Virginia summer heat. Thank goodness it also tastes good too! It can be used in place of spinach in most dishes - raw, sauteed, blended into a smoothie, etc! Give it a try and let us know your favorite way to munch on some orach.