What is “Miner’s Lettuce”?
According to Hank Shaw of the James Beard Award-winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, “no wild salad green is more important than miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata.”
Abundant in Northern California and parts of the Northeast, specifically Vermont and New Hampshire, Miner’s lettuce is one of the few wild edibles that are native to North America, as dandelion, plantain, most thistles, chickweed, purslane, mallow, cat’s ear, garlic mustard, and shepherd’s purse are all of European origin, Shaw points out.
Generally available from February to May (and currently available for NYC folks at the Union Square Farmers Market), Miner’s Lettuce has a succulent texture and crunchy, watercress-y stem akin to that of a pea shoot. (The taste reminisces of pea shoots and nasturtium leaves.)
High in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and iron, Miner’s Lettuce gets its name from the Gold Rush, when miners regularly ate the plant to stave off scurvy (which is caused by vitamin C deficiency). So nourishing and commonplace is this wild edible, in fact, that today Miner’s lettuce is up there with purslane and stinging nettles as yet another example of why Americans should start eating their weeds— it has a high nutrient profile, its delicious in salads, and its readily available in the wild for those who know how to identify it.
Simply wash the greens and toss in a salad with a light vinaigrette or use the flowers to garnish cheese dishes like burrata or a mozzarella flatbread. The light, pleasantly-crunchy, nutrient-rich green has a low carbon footprint (it’s foraged, after all), and an impressive shelf-life, to boot. Look for it at your local farmers market while there’s still time!