What Is Miner's Lettuce?

Rebecca Cartwright
Rebecca Cartwright
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Miner's lettuce, or Claytonia perfoliata, is a broadleaf annual plant in the Portulacaceae, or purslane, family. The species is native to the western and north-western parts of North America. It is called "miner's lettuce" because during the California Gold Rush miners ate it for its high vitamin C content, which helped them avoid a condition called scurvy. Miner's lettuce is still eaten as a salad green today. It is often gathered as a wild plant, but it is also grown in many gardens.

The species is native in a wide region, from the southern part of Alaska south to Baja California, and east to parts of Colorado and Wyoming, though it is also found elsewhere sporadically. It is very common throughout these areas wherever growth conditions are favorable. This plant requires moist soil, shade and cool temperatures. In areas with enough moisture but hotter summers it will grow and flower in early spring, then dry up as temperatures rise. Where conditions favor miner's lettuce is thrives in a wide range of settings including in gardens, yards, vacant lots and other areas where the soil has been disturbed.

Seedling plants are rosettes of leaves growing very close to the ground. When mature, the plant has oval to triangular leave arranged on stems up to 8 inches (about 20 cm) long. The stems radiate from the center of the plant. Miner's lettuce leaves are bright green and thick, almost succulent, in texture.

Flowers are very small and white. They grow in elongated clusters on the flower stems. Those stems rise above the leaves and seem to grow through a single, circular leaf. This is actually a pair of leaves which grow together around the flower stalk. Depending on location, miner's lettuce can bloom anytime from early March into July.

The leaves can be picked for salads anytime during the growing season. They are often described as mild-flavored, with a slightly acidic taste. With a crisp texture like true lettuce, miner's lettuce can be mixed with other greens or served by itself. Once picked it can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Seed is available for planting it in gardens.

Miner's lettuce has naturalized in several parts of the world, probably by spreading out of gardens. In North America it is now established in both Georgia and New Hampshire. It is commonly found in Great Britain as well in some parts of the European mainland. There are also reports of it growing wild in New Zealand and parts of Australia.

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