Miner’s lettuce is native to California, grows prolifically without human intervention, and makes a tasty addition to your salad. It can also be cooked the way we cook spinach, with a similar taste.
Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), also known as winter purslane, spring beauty, and Indian lettuce, is rumored to have gotten its name because California Gold Rush miners used to eat it to prevent scurvy. I don’t know if this is true, or not, but it sounds good and it makes sense. The leaves are high in vitamin C and can be quite abundant in late winter through late spring.
Miner’s lettuce identification
Miner’s lettuce is a fleshy annual with petite white and pink flowers. It grows in a rosette form with several erect, slender, spreading stems. The leaves are bright green and can be football-shaped, triangular, diamond- or kidney-shaped. The easiest way to identify miner’s lettuce is the tiny white or pink flower stalks that appears to grow out of a round, cup-like bract that surrounds the stem. Flowers bloom February through May.
Growing miner’s lettuce
Miner’s lettuce should be planted starting a couple of weeks before the first frost, usually by the first of November in the Bay Area. Miner’s lettuce can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Seeds should be planted 1/4-inch deep and spaced 4 inches apart. Keep the soil moist until germination occurs.
While this annual does die off in our summer heat, it reseeds prolifically and will return each year, making a nice edible ground cover. Miner’s lettuce does contain oxalates, which can accumulate in older leaves and can be mildly toxic in large quantities.
Miner’s lettuce also provides food for our native mourning doves and quail.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!