• Enough Miner’s lettuce for a salad

    by  • May 11, 2011 • Plant Profiles, Spring • 16 Comments

    Much about Miner’s lettuce

    It may seem a weed in many California gardens, but you’ll find that miner’s lettuce, or Claytonia, is beautiful, useful and edible!

    “The Claytonia perfoliata was discovered on the northwest coast of America, by Mr. Archibald Menzies, and introduced by him into the Kew Garden, in the year 1796, where it has maintained itself ever since, and whence it has been communicated to most of the Botanic Gardens in the kingdom.

    Flowers nearly all the summer; and in a moist soil, not too much exposed, will sow itself, and the young plants will come up in the spring, requiring no other care than to prevent their being choked by more powerful weeds, or cut off by that destructive instrument the hoe. Our drawing was taken at Mr. Salisbury’s Botanic Garden, Brompton.” Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 1811 *

    Miner's lettuce is the most recognizable wild edible plant now.

    Miner’s lettuce is the most recognizable wild edible plant now.

    The genus, Claytonia, had been named for 18th century botanist , John Clayton**, by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. ‘Perfoliate’, means having a leaf with the base united around, and apparently pierced by, the stem.

    In 1806, Lewis and Clark’s men collected this plant, Claytonia perfoliata, called miner’s lettuce, at The Dalles, along the Columbia River.*** Until reading this, I had thought the ‘”miners” were “49ers.” Obviously, if Lewis and Clark referred to miners in 1806, then this common belief is a misconception. In 1897, in The wild flowers of California: Their names, haunts, and habits , Mary Elizabeth Parsons does refers to Claytonia perfoliata as Indian lettuce.

    The seedling starts out with tiny leaves on a spidery cluster of stems, here at the base of an oak.

    The seedling starts out with no leaves on a spidery cluster of stems, here at the base of an oak.

    At ground level, Miner’s lettuce, a California native in the Portulaca family, sprouts dozens of thin stems, eventually topped with tiny, heart-shaped leaves. As these grow, each one encircles the stem, so that the leaves appear as flat-topped umbrellas, sometimes blown into cupped shapes by the wind.

    Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata

    Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata in the meadow

    ‘Perfoliate’, means having a leaf with the base united around, and apparently pierced by, the stem.

    ‘Perfoliate’ stem

    They pop up everywhere even in my potting soil bin.

    They pop up everywhere even in my potting soil bin.

    Most of the edible ‘weeds’, are of European nativity, dandelion, plantain, chickweed, purslane, mallow, cat’s ear, garlic mustard, shepherd’s purse. I don’t actually eat these, but I do eat Claytonia perfoliata! I eat it right out of the garden, and the taste to me is between peas and grass. I especially like to offer it to any young ones around the place and haven’t had one refuse yet. Hmmm.

    In the shade the leaves are tender and sweet, like these growing out from under a bench.

    In the shade the leaves are tender and sweet, like these growing out from under a bench.

    These round leaves are used in salads, like this one prepared for Tractor Man’s lunch. I did tell him the ingredients…halfway through and he said he couldn’t tell any difference between this and any other salad I’ve made. Humh.

    Miner's lettuce is in high demand in fine restaurants and if Hubby like its, we'll have it more.  Why not?

    Miner’s lettuce is in high demand in fine restaurants and if Hubby like its, we’ll have it more. Why not?

    This was a mixed green salad, half green leafy lettuce and half Miner’s lettuce, chopped green onions and toasted sesame seeds. I’d like to try a fennel, apple, and Claytonia salad sometime.

    Easy Vinaigrette
    For 2 salads
    Whisk in the bottom of the salad bowl:
    4 T olive oil
    2 T white wine vinegar
    1 t mustard
    Salt & pepper to taste
    Add lettuces and toss.

    Miner's lettuce seeds itself everywhere and thought it would like this pot

    Miner’s lettuce seeds itself everywhere and thought it would like living in this pot

     

     Notes:

    Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, in which the most ornamental foreign plants, cultivated in the open ground, the green-house, and the stove, are accurately represented in their natural colours.   (I love this title!)

    * Curtis’s Botanical Magazine
    The Botanical Magazine is one of the oldest, and longest published, of the British horticultural magazines.  Founded by William Curtis, management and editorship of the Magazine was taken over by John Sims in 1799 upon the death of Curtis. Claytonia here.

    ** Clayton, John, (1694-1773): Emigrated to Virginia from England in 1715. Clerk to the County Court of Gloucester County, Virginia from 1720 until his death. Became friends with Mark Catesby, artist and naturalist. Probably joined Catesby on collecting expeditions and when Catesby returned to England, Clayton continued collecting and sent Catesby many specimens. Catesby shared these specimens with J. F. Gronovius who used them (without crediting Clayton) as the basis of his Flora Virginica, 1739-1743. Gronovius shared the specimens with Linnaeus and they formed the basis of Linnaeus’ knowledge of North American species. Sir Joseph Banks (of Captain Cook and Captain Bligh fame) bought the Gronovius-Clayton specimens in 1793.  Clayton and the great naturalist John Bartram became friends. The herbarium of the Natural History Museum of London is named for John Clayton.  Source.

    *** Herbarium of the Lewis & Clark Expedition Vol. 12, pg 23, item 46  (exact entry below)

    Claytonia perfoliata,Donn ex Willd. ssp. miner’s lettuce; ANS-A; Pursh, 176; collected at Rock Fort (Rocky) Camp, The Dalles, Wasco County, Oregon, April 17, 1806

    The University of Nebraska Press editions of The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition are widely heralded as a lasting achievement. In all, twelve volumes and a comprehensive index are projected, which together will provide a complete record of the expedition.

    –After 1893 and until 1993, it was also called Montia perfoliata, but that kind of in the “Who cares” file. SL

    About

    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    16 Responses to Enough Miner’s lettuce for a salad

    1. May 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Been meaning to get some of that for about a year. If it works in California it will work here. Obviously it existed before the Miners, and before the Indians I guess. But I know it came here with the California miners who came to the Otago gold rush. So “miners lettuce’ will do as a name for me. I must have a look around the old mine camp remnants. If that doesn’t work, I do know I can buy seeds on mail order.

    2. May 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Been meaning to get some of that for about a year. If it works in California it will work here. Obviously it existed before the Miners, and before the Indians I guess. But I know it came here with the California miners who came to the Otago gold rush. So “miners lettuce’ will do as a name for me. I must have a look around the old mine camp remnants. If that doesn’t work, I do know I can buy seeds on mail order.

    3. May 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Thanks for the nice write up. I’ve liked Miner’s Lettuce for a long time, making some snacks with it years before I had a broader interest in native plants.

      It wasn’t completely clear if Lewis and Clark called C. perfoliata Miner’s Lettuce or not. That was my take away from your concluding remarks in that section, but a closer read of your leading sentence, “In 1806, Lewis and Clark’s men collected this plant, Claytonia perfoliata, called miner’s lettuce, at The Dalles, along the Columbia River” made me confused. Is this a contemporary reference to the common name or a quote from a record of the L&C expedition?

      While Googling for an answer on my own I did find out that it was common practice for miners to set fires in order to clear brush. Perhaps Miner’s Lettuce is a fire follower and that might explain an earlier provenance of its name than 1849

      (For those who might be reading along from out of the area, California’s gold rush took place in 1849.)

    4. May 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Thanks for the nice write up. I’ve liked Miner’s Lettuce for a long time, making some snacks with it years before I had a broader interest in native plants.

      It wasn’t completely clear if Lewis and Clark called C. perfoliata Miner’s Lettuce or not. That was my take away from your concluding remarks in that section, but a closer read of your leading sentence, “In 1806, Lewis and Clark’s men collected this plant, Claytonia perfoliata, called miner’s lettuce, at The Dalles, along the Columbia River” made me confused. Is this a contemporary reference to the common name or a quote from a record of the L&C expedition?

      While Googling for an answer on my own I did find out that it was common practice for miners to set fires in order to clear brush. Perhaps Miner’s Lettuce is a fire follower and that might explain an earlier provenance of its name than 1849

      (For those who might be reading along from out of the area, California’s gold rush took place in 1849.)

    5. May 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Considering that you are in a mining area, Kerry, that would be very appropriate and a conversation starter. Know any chefs you that would want any? This year, I’d like to watch for the seed when it appears. 🙂

      Brett, Very interesting question… It looks like a quote to me. I had to check again to make sure I got this right and I should have included the reference to the 1806 reference, so I just added it above.
      In the Herbarium of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Vol. 12, pg 23, item 46, they do call it miner’s lettuce, so that predates everything I’ve heard before, by 44 years. What miner’s were they referring to? Not capitalized, so probably not a proper name. This is a question for someone who knows more history of Lewis and Clark’s era. Someday I’d like to read the preface material in the Herbarium to get more of the story. What do you think? ~Sue

    6. May 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Considering that you are in a mining area, Kerry, that would be very appropriate and a conversation starter. Know any chefs you that would want any? This year, I’d like to watch for the seed when it appears. 🙂

      Brett, Very interesting question… It looks like a quote to me. I had to check again to make sure I got this right and I should have included the reference to the 1806 reference, so I just added it above.
      In the Herbarium of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Vol. 12, pg 23, item 46, they do call it miner’s lettuce, so that predates everything I’ve heard before, by 44 years. What miner’s were they referring to? Not capitalized, so probably not a proper name. This is a question for someone who knows more history of Lewis and Clark’s era. Someday I’d like to read the preface material in the Herbarium to get more of the story. What do you think? ~Sue

    7. May 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      Brett, the only problem with this is that we can’t be positive whether an editor changed the name to miner’s lettuce to indicate the difference between perfoliata and another Claytonia, but I don’t believe so. On pg 7 of the Herbarium source, it says the names were determined from nomenclature provided on the specimen sheets.

      Another book about the expedition says “The specimen sheets bear various labels and annotations by Lewis, or Pursh or Lambert”, the botanists who recorded the collection.

      Thanks for asking this question, Brett, I don’t know why I’m so interested in plant names or their discovery. I enjoyed looking into this as well!

    8. May 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      Brett, the only problem with this is that we can’t be positive whether an editor changed the name to miner’s lettuce to indicate the difference between perfoliata and another Claytonia, but I don’t believe so. On pg 7 of the Herbarium source, it says the names were determined from nomenclature provided on the specimen sheets.

      Another book about the expedition says “The specimen sheets bear various labels and annotations by Lewis, or Pursh or Lambert”, the botanists who recorded the collection.

      Thanks for asking this question, Brett, I don’t know why I’m so interested in plant names or their discovery. I enjoyed looking into this as well!

    9. May 13, 2011 at 11:51 am

      I love the look of the salad, particularly how you leave the perfoliate leaves on the stems: a salad with some terrific architectural greens. I’ve tried growing this a couple times but I always let the plants down by not watering nearly enough. We have these in the canyon nearby, but the canyon clearly has some areas moister than most of my garden.

      • May 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm

        James, after I took the photo I took the top piece off so Tractor man wouldn’t be startled…told him after he ate half. It’s worth harvesting if you find it or maybe it’d grow under a drippy faucet. Even in our dry climate baby tears grows under mine.

    10. May 13, 2011 at 11:51 am

      I love the look of the salad, particularly how you leave the perfoliate leaves on the stems: a salad with some terrific architectural greens. I’ve tried growing this a couple times but I always let the plants down by not watering nearly enough. We have these in the canyon nearby, but the canyon clearly has some areas moister than most of my garden.

      • May 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm

        James, after I took the photo I took the top piece off so Tractor man wouldn’t be startled…told him after he ate half. It’s worth harvesting if you find it or maybe it’d grow under a drippy faucet. Even in our dry climate baby tears grows under mine.

    11. May 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Sue –

      I was so reluctant to give up the traditional story about the roots of the miner’s lettuce name that I read through page 7 and it looks like some more modern references were used to give the common names of the plants. In the end of the last paragraph on page 7 it cites 1973 and 1986 sources as particularly useful in determining the appropriate vernacular name of each of the plants in the herbarium.

      I think the reference to nomenclature on the specimen sheets for identification purposes doesn’t preclude the use of a more modern source for the common name.

      I’m pretty convinced of this right now, but I could change my mind. What’s grabbed my attention is the ~100 year use of Montia, then a shift back to Claytonia. But maybe I’m just projecting the drama of the great renaming of Napa Gamay, which has a more widely appreciated use as a wine grape.

      • May 13, 2011 at 3:31 pm

        Hi Brett, It’s an interesting question. I can see where modern editors compiling this Herbarium would want present day readers to know which plant is indicated in each entry, so would add information in modern usage. Maybe that’s what they did here. The problem I think, is for a historian, he/she would want to know ‘what the notes back then said exactly’ to understand what the actual explorers were experiencing. I was hoping that Lewis and Clark did call it miner’s lettuce because the idea of that was pretty fascinating! hahaha Hard to be objective!

    12. May 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Sue –

      I was so reluctant to give up the traditional story about the roots of the miner’s lettuce name that I read through page 7 and it looks like some more modern references were used to give the common names of the plants. In the end of the last paragraph on page 7 it cites 1973 and 1986 sources as particularly useful in determining the appropriate vernacular name of each of the plants in the herbarium.

      I think the reference to nomenclature on the specimen sheets for identification purposes doesn’t preclude the use of a more modern source for the common name.

      I’m pretty convinced of this right now, but I could change my mind. What’s grabbed my attention is the ~100 year use of Montia, then a shift back to Claytonia. But maybe I’m just projecting the drama of the great renaming of Napa Gamay, which has a more widely appreciated use as a wine grape.

      • May 13, 2011 at 3:31 pm

        Hi Brett, It’s an interesting question. I can see where modern editors compiling this Herbarium would want present day readers to know which plant is indicated in each entry, so would add information in modern usage. Maybe that’s what they did here. The problem I think, is for a historian, he/she would want to know ‘what the notes back then said exactly’ to understand what the actual explorers were experiencing. I was hoping that Lewis and Clark did call it miner’s lettuce because the idea of that was pretty fascinating! hahaha Hard to be objective!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *