Saturday, April 25, 2015

Miner's Lettuce and Co. A Tiny, Spring Salad

Miner's Lettuce
Miner’s lettuce, delicious salad herb, succulent green reminiscient of spinach, is a hardy winter annual.
Claytonia perfoliata appears during a slack time for garden greens. Along with hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta and mache or corn salad, Valerianella locusta, these 3 wildings make a tasty, textured salad in early spring. They grow well in cool weather and are ample before lettuces are up and growing in the garden. Served with a light balsamic vinegar or spruce tip vinegar and lots of olive oil and a bit of chive makes for a delicious fresh spring treat.  

The miner's lettuce although bland, is juicy and has good crunch, giving a small salad texture. Hairy bitter cress is fiesty, on the peppery side of the flavor scale yet lacks any real tooth. Mache, on the other hand, has the butteriest texture of all the wild greens. A real smooth mouth feel and of my favorites. 
All 3 naturalize in the garden easily. For the wise gardener, it creates a perfect "eat your weeds" scenario. I often remind apprentices that "if you can't beat it!" Beware! The caveat around eating wild food is, you may have wild thoughts. You are duly warned…enjoy!
These hardy greens seem to carry with them an added vitality. Perhaps because they aren't afraid to come out when we humans prefer to stay in! What I know, is that I'm hungry for something fresh when they are at their best. Along with cooked overwinter brassica tips and the beginnings of the spring potherbs, these wild wonders make easy foraging in a wild-edged garden!
Miner’s lettuce often grows in thick stands so harvest can be quick. It prefers the edge of the woods in filtered light and then persists longer in denser shade as temps warm up. By summer it is easily replaced with garden lettuces and greens. Miner’s lettuce goes by in flavor and texture as summer heat moves it toward dormancy.
Claytonia is easily grown in the home garden, seed being available from many vegetable seed purveyors. With a simple shelter Miner’s Lettuce will stand through the Maritime winters here by the Salish Sea. Hairy bittercress is abundant and needs no coaxing or shelter often blooming upon emergence. An excellent survival strategy! Mache is no native here, so needs to be seeded to start and  often naturalizes. The name corn salad comes from the weed’s appearance in grain fields in Europe where corn referred to the grain of the area, i.e. wheat in England, oats in Scotland and Ireland, probably barley in the Bible. 

A Tiny Spring Salad

Miner's lettuce, hairy bittercress, mache in parts to your taste!
Leave greens whole, toss with balsamic vinegar or spruce tip vinegar, olive oil 
And a quick grind of salt and pepper if you like...

Happy foraging. 

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