Miners Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
How to Identify Miners Lettuce
Scientific Name: Claytonia perfoliata
Also known as: Indian lettuce, spring beauty, and winter purslane.
Habitat: Disturbed and waste ground, moist banks and slopes, often in partial shade, especially on light soils. Also found on rather dry sandy soils. Western N. America – British Columbia to California and Mexico. Naturalised in Britain. C. perfoliata is common in the spring time, and prefers a cool, damp environment. The plant first appears in sunlit areas after the first heavy rains of the year, though the best stands are found in shaded areas, especially in the uplands, into early summer.
Description: Claytonia perfoliata is a tender rosette-forming plant that grows to a maximum of 40 centimetres (16 in) in height, but mature plants can be as short as 1 centimetre (0.39 in).
- Leaves – The cotyledons are usually bright green (rarely purplish- or brownish-green), succulent, long and narrow. The first true leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant, and are 0.5 to 4 centimetres (0.20 to 1.57 in) long, with a typically long petiole (exceptionally up to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) long).
As the days get hotter and drier, the leaves turn a deep red color as they dry out.
- Flowers – The small pink or white flowers have five petals 2 to 6 millimetres (0.079 to 0.236 in) long. The flowers appear from February to May or June, and are grouped 5–40 together. The flowers grow above a pair of leaves that are connected together around the stem so as to appear as a single circular leaf. Mature plants form a rosette; they have numerous erect to spreading stems that branch from the base.
- Seeds – Fruits are tiny, three-valved capsules containing one to three round to egg-shaped, shiny, black seeds.
Leaves – raw or cooked. A fairly bland flavour with a mucilaginous texture, it is quite nice in a salad. The young leaves are best, older leaves can turn bitter especially in the summer and if the plant is growing in a hot dry position. Although individual leaves are fairly small, they are produced in abundance and are easily picked.
Stalks and flowers – raw. A nice addition to the salad bowl.
Bulb – raw. Although very small and labour-intensive to harvest, the boiled and peeled root has the flavour of chestnuts.
The leaves are gently laxative. Apart from its value as a nourishing vegetable that is rich in vitamin C, it can also be taken as an invigorating spring tonic and an effective diuretic. A poultice of the mashed plants has been applied to rheumatic joints
Although only an annual, this species makes an excellent ground cover in a cool acid soil under trees. In such a position it usually self-sows freely and grows all year round.
The leaves appear in abundance in March and April. Cut or pull the stems and rinse. Or, carefully dig up the bulbs (making sure that they are attached to the correct plants.