Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the April 10, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills
somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA
Despite the failure of my greens crops, I haven't missed them much. One reason is because of a certain wild, native plant growing in abundance here as a weed in the garden, the lawn, along roads and in openings in the woods. It's all over the place.
People here call it Miner's Lettuce but I've also seen it referred to as Indian Lettuce and Winter Purslane. It's CLAYTONIA PERFOLIATA of the Purslane Family, the same family in which is found rock-garden Portulaca and the little eastern-North America wildflower with white flower-petals adorned with pink veins, the Spring Beauty. In fact, Miner's Lettuce is in the same genus as Spring Beauty. You can see Miner's Lettuce at www.uni-essen.de/botanik/Exkursionen/Claytonia_perfoliata.jpg.
If you view that page, notice the unusual feature that makes Miner's Lettuce so easy to identify: The stem bearing its cluster of white-to-pinkish flowers grows up through the middle of what appears to be a large, circular leaf (actually two leaves grown together).
The wonderful thing about Miner's Lettuce is that it's edible raw. My friends told me it made a good salad ingredient so I filled a big bowl with it, snipped in some radishes and added a few Rosemary leaves, made a nice dressing, and by golly I enjoyed it so much that when I finished it I made an even larger bowl full.
I wouldn't say that Miner's Lettuce has a great taste. Rather, it has little taste at all. It's just a pleasant-textured, green succulence that takes on your seasonings' flavors. One of its most important features as a wild salad ingredient is that, unlike so many wild greens, it often grows in pure stands and you can pick its leaves, stems and flowers. Often you can pick a big mess in just a minute or so.
Miner's Lettuce is native from British Columbia south through this area to Mexico, but it's been introduced into other countries whose citizens know a good salad ingredient when they taste it. Unfortunately, most plants here now are going to seed. However, by the time they've faded completely I hope my newly planted beds of mustard and turnip greens will take their place.