Orache, the Salty Green
The kids in my foraging classes call it the potato chip plant, which gives you a clue about the flavor of orache (Atriplex spp.). Like its cousin lamb's quarter, orache is a mild tender green. The twist is that this plant, which favors growing in saline soil, tastes noticeably salty.
I've read accounts of orache (also spelled orach) possessing a slightly bitter flavor in other places, but here along the Front Range, it is reliably sweet and delicious. I will admit that I've yet to get this plant keyed out. I've narrowed it down to 2-3 species and will have to wait until it flowers to properly crack its identity. Orache is one of the first plants to grow strongly after it emerges in spring, preceding lamb's quarter appearance by more than a month, and it will give some tender leaves all the way to the frost. It favors alkaline soil, and can be found along ditches and in fields. If you have access to orache, you can make it a workhorse potherb in your kitchen.
|Lamb's quarter leaf|
You may enjoy eating orache leaves raw, or in a salad. They are quite nice with a bit of goat cheese and a dab of jam rolled up inside. When cooking with orache, think of all the places where you would normally use spinach, and substitute it into your recipe. The other day, I saw a patch of orache growing atop a septic system with leaves larger than my hands (I didn't pick any to eat). Usually, the leaves are small enough that they can be cooked whole, or only roughly chopped. You may need to cut back on the salt in the recipe, to account for the salinity of orache. It's about like the difference between salted and unsalted butter.
If you're up for a little adventure, collect a large amount of orache, dry it, then burn the leaves. The ash that remains can be used as a salt substitute. I tried this last year, but didn't do it in a great enough quantity to be of much use.
If you'd like to learn more about this salty little plant, including an account of eating other species of the Atriplex genus, you can purchase the May 2014 volume of Wild Food Girl's Wild Edible Notebook for only $2.