Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is a very common wild green here in California, growing (in my yard at least) during the late winter/early spring just as the soil is warming up. It will persist for a little while, but as the weather gets hotter and the soil drier, the plants disappear in favor of hardier weeds. If you don’t have miner’s lettuce growing wild in your yard, it is available in seed form from several sources.
Claytonia is a lovely little harbinger of spring, with cheerful, vibrantly green leaves and a sprig of tiny white flowers springing from the center of each cup-shaped leaf. Its simple charm, the honeybees and other beneficial insects’ love for it, and the fact that it is a delicious, edible, free green, make it a welcome “weed” in my early-spring garden. Apparently California gold miners thought so, too (hence its name), and ate it to help prevent scurvy. Miner’s lettuce tastes a lot like spinach, but with a slightly thicker leaf and less of that weird tooth-coating feeling that eating a lot of spinach will give you.
I like to combine claytonia with other spring vegetables in a salad, though I hear it is good lightly cooked, as well. Here is one rendition of the miner’s lettuce salad I like to make; it would also be good with other spring vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, asparagus, or peas.
Miner’s Lettuce Salad
- 1 recipe Basic Vinaigrette, made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and dijon mustard
- a couple sprigs of tarragon, finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons chopped)
- 4 large or 6 small beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into wedges
- a couple large handfuls of miner’s lettuce (maybe 2-3 loosely-packed cups)
- 2 Tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted (I like to toast mine with a tiny bit of bacon fat in a skillet, and then sprinkle with sea salt while still hot)
Toss the tarragon and beets with the vinaigrette, and let marinate for at least 5 minutes. Add the miner’s lettuce and nuts; toss gently to mix components. Serve immediately.
Serves 3-4 as a side salad.