California Edibles: Miner’s lettuce
As many of you may have noticed, California is experiencing our wonderful, annual super bloom across the state. Whether in your backyard or in meadows off the highway, there is no avoiding the carpet of California poppies! But aside from bright colors, April showers bring emerald green, California edibles that can go from the oak forest to your plate.
Our native plant of the month is Claytonia perfoliate, commonly known as miner’s lettuce. It is an annual herb in the Montiaceae family that is native to California, but also found outside of the state. It typically grows throughout the winter and spring months across California in many diverse plant communities.
Miner’s lettuce forms rosettes as it grows and reaches a maximum height of 40 centimeters. Small, white to pink flowers with five petals will appear on miner’s lettuce starting in February. Seeds ripen around April and May. Mature miner’s lettuce will have erect stems branching from the center, containing many seedpods.
In the wild
This plant prefers to grow in shaded, moist areas but will show up where there are pockets of sunlight. Generally, the presence of miner’s lettuce is indicative of a healthy oak woodland forest, or other Californian native plant communities. It demonstrates that the soils are rich and the waters are pure. Miner’s lettuce found closer to the coast or in other cool-weather areas tend to be more drought tolerant than what’s found in inland California.
In the garden
Add miner’s lettuce to where your understory garden can thrive! It will need shade and water but will definitely be a tasty addition to your homemade meals. It tolerates a variety of soils as long as there is sufficient winter moisture. Growing miner’s lettuce annually will improve your garden’s soils in the long run. Miner’s lettuce works well as an annual understory plant with oaks, other trees or larger shrubs. Can be mixed with more showy annuals or perennial herbs as well!
On your plate
Miner’s lettuce got its name for its use by Californian miners during the Gold Rush period. The plant was eaten raw for its rich Vitamin C content to prevent scurvy. This is a very versatile plant. You can consume it raw, or cook it down like you would with spinach. It goes great in sandwiches, pizzas, salads, bruschetta, pasta salad, soups, and much more! It has a very delicate taste and a nice crunch when eaten raw.