Monday, 11 April 2011
We grew some Miners' Lettuce (claytonia perfoliata) last year, but it did not do terribly well in the garden. Not too surprising; it grows best in cool to downright cold conditions and last summer was extremely hot and dry for us. However, it did well enough to go to seed and we have it coming up in various spots this spring. We also replanted some in the hoop-houses. The red leaves are a sign that they are a tad on the dry side. It likes it moist, semi-shady and cool, and loose, rich, humus soil is the best.
Miners' Lettuce is a North American native plant, growing all up and down the west coast from Alaska to California. Native Americans, and later settlers and miners, used it as an early spring green. It can be eaten raw or cooked, although I haven't tried it cooked and don't really intend to - I expect it to shrink way down to nothing like most juicy greens. The leaves are VERY small and picky to gather, and I think their charm as an early green is their freshness and crunchiness anyway. The flavour is mild, and quite similar to lettuce, although the texture is a little different. As a member of the purslane family, it's a kind of succulent. They do contain oxalic acid, so shouldn't be eaten in enormous quantities. However they are also rich in vitamin C and have decent quantities of vitamin A and iron.
Ours is starting to flower already, and apparently that's no problem. They can be eaten flowers and all, although I do think they are best if they are not too far along. The flavour gets stronger, less spinachy-lettucey and more grassy.
The easiest way to pick them is take a pair of scissors and snip off the leaves. Discard any that are damaged, slimy or discoloured. They are said to keep for several days in the fridge but my impression is that they deteriorate in quality very quickly and are best picked just before being used.
We ate them as a very simple salad with just a little chopped cabbage and grated carrot. If you weren't looking at the plate, you would think you were eating a lettuce salad. None of our lettuces are ready this early though.
We originally planted these as they were recommended in Eliot Coleman's Four Season Garden as a vegetable to grow in hoop-houses for winter harvest. Our hoop-houses have turned out to be too inaccessible in the winter, but they are supplying some greens as soon as the snow melts. These are the first greens we have picked this year and it was very pleasant to have them.
I suspect we will now always have them, as they are fairly determined self-seeders. Not a problem; they are easy to pull out and weeds you can eat are the best kind of weed.
If you want to grow some you can plant some seed now, although I think it is also a good plan to seed them in the fall and let them overwinter as small plants, so that you will be able to pick them as soon as possible in the spring. Ours did well in the hoop-house but the ones left exposed really did almost as well. They are annuals, so once they have seeded they are likely to fade away, but as said they should leave behind a generous quantity of progeny.