I have been continuing my adventures with wild food, and finally overcame my anxiety about trying orache. I am not 100% sure which variety I picked in the end; it was not exactly like the pictures in any of my wild food books. For reference I looked at ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey, Prehistoric cooking by Jacqui Wood, and ‘Edible Seashore’ by John Wright. This last book is one of the River Cottage Handbooks. All three books recommend orache as a wild food, similar to spinach but not producing as many leaves per plant. The Orache plant family is related to ‘Fat Hen’, an edible weed that I find on my compost heap, and other plants in the goosefoot family.

This was also the first road test of the Richard Mabey book, and it let me down by not discussing or referring to the huge range of orache plants. The Prehistoric cookery book also hints at the possibilities, but it was the Edible seashore book and google that were the most helpful.

Anyway, off we set with our bucket, across the dunes and down to the shore to see what we could find. We found a lot of orache, several varieties, growing in the dune grasses, on the edge of the machair, and then on the higher parts of the shore. We found a whole area of frosted orache (Atriplex laciniata), good big plants with lots of shoots. The plants were low, lying, growing straight out of the sand. The leaves were frosted and rough, and there were clusters of small buds towards the tips, arising in the joints where the leaves leave the stem. I took one shoot of each plant we saw, and ended up with about three good bunches. This was enough to feed three people; like spinach, it cooks down a lot.

When I got home, I rinsed it off to remove the sand, and then cooked it in garlic butter for about three minutes. It was very good indeed, better than spinach, and a good side dish. Next time I see it growing well, no worries, I would pick it again.

In terms of nutrition, it was extremely fresh and extremely local, so there was minimal wastage of nutrients. It was better cooked, and the books agreed with me on that one. It is hard to get data on the nutritional value of Orache, but it is reputed to be rich in calcium, vitamin c, vitamin b1, and iron.

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