I found miner’s lettuce in a seed catalog years ago when I was first shopping for winter greenhouse greens. Our attached greenhouse stays pretty warm, but it’s not heated. It goes to about 20 degrees on cloudy days midwinter, and I wanted something that could keep growing right through the coldest months.
Fedco seeds says that it “was the ’49ers green of choice, rich in calcium and vitamin C. Claytonia’s small heart-shaped leaves have a mild but succulent taste that we find attractive.
We add it regularly to our mesclun. Barbara Damrosch says it ‘re-grows like crazy so you can get cut after cut off the same plant.’ Cold-hardy through at least part of the Maine winter.”
Cold hardy through part of the Maine winter means that it’s cold hardy through all of the Vermont winter in an unheated greenhouse. We haven’t had to plant it in years since it prolifically self-seeds. Every year miner’s lettuce pops all on its own, sometimes in midwinter.
If you live out west, you can forage miner’s lettuce in the winter rainy season. Thus the original name, miner’s lettuce, since it was used by the miners during the gold rush.
Honestly, I wouldn’t exactly class it with survival food or campfire beans. Claytonia is tasty, crisp and worth growing in your own garden to complement spring salads.
How to Grow Miner’s Lettuce
Spread seeds in rows 4 weeks before the last frost. Claytonia wants to get started early and will germinate in cold temperatures. If it doesn’t get started before everything else, it may have trouble beating out the weeds. Ideally, sow it as soon as the soil can be worked, along with your garden peas.
Claytonia is a perennial in zones 6 to 9, growing right on through the winter. For cold climates, it readily re-seeds with a high germination rate. Once you plant it, you can harvest from the same spot year after year.
The nice thing is that even though it self-sows, I wouldn’t call it invasive. Individual plants are shallow-rooted and pull up with the scratch of a finger. The stems are delicate, and if you ever decide you want them gone that’s easy enough to accomplish with a little regular hoeing.
Claytonia grows in most soil types, but it prefers moist soil with a good amount of compost. Claytonia likes shade, and it grows best with a little protection from the hot summer sun. Try planting it behind taller crops like corn that will shade it midsummer.
How to Harvest Miner’s Lettuce
Miner’s lettuce is a cut and come again plant, and if you don’t harvest the whole thing it’ll keep on sending up new leaves. Harvesting just one leaf can be a bit tricky though since the whole plant is very shallow rooted and pulls up easily.
Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off a few leaves from each plant, right at the base where the leaves meet the soil. Miner’s lettuce sends up two distinct types of leaves, primary leaves around the sides, and secondary leaves that grow flowers out of their centers. If you don’t want it to reseed, harvest the secondary leaves as they emerge and leave the primary leaves to fuel the plant’s growth.
If you want it to grow again year after year, make sure you leave some of those secondary flowering leaves.
Once you harvest, miner’s lettuce can be used like any tender, flavorful spring green or sprout. Add it into a mixed greens salad, put a few leaves on a sandwich or eat it right out of hand in the garden.
Where to Buy Miner’s Lettuce Seeds
Most seed companies sell it as Claytonia, for its Latin name Claytonia perfoliata, rather than under the name “miner’s lettuce.” It’s also sometimes called “winter purslane” because the leaves are thick and juicy, much like the purslane you can harvest in the summer months.
We originally bought ours from Fedco Seeds in Maine. They have a really helpful page that lists cold-hardy greens, which is exactly what we were looking for to grow in our winter greenhouse.
Shipping can be a bit tricky unless you’re putting in a full seed order. For a single packet, try Amazon.
Interesting, interesting, interesting. I have heard of miners lettuce, but really knew nothing about it. Thanks for an informative article.
I saw a stand of this adorable little plant for the first time while out for a walk last February and wondered what it was. Now I know! I live on Vancouver Island and it grows wild all winter here, apparently. This autumn we’ll be sowing some seeds in our own garden to add to our winter mix. Nice informative article. Thank you 🙂
I grew up in Central Cali. And under a big mulberry tree, we had TONS of these growing, and they got huge leaves. Coolest plant I had ever seen growing up. That was one of mine and my friends’ “food sources” as we would play indians and gather the leaves. Did try it once and liked it. I live in Ky now, but did not know they’re so cold hardy. I may have to grow them on my land!
Amazing article. I love it!
Miners lettuce pops up in my garden every year. I brought seeds about 5 years ago. I use it as an addition to salads and in sandwiches.
Hi I am wondering how I can save seeds from claytonia.
They really pop out of there pretty quick, and disperse everywhere. I’d say put a tray or paper of somekind under them to collect them, then let them air dry for a day or two before packing them away. Good luck!
In Lake County Ca. (Zone 7) it comes up in mid Winter, and begins bolting by mid spring. That makes it a good supplemental forage crop for dairy goats, because it’s at its peak for that last month before Spring kidding, when the does are gorging themselves, and packing it on.
I grew miner’s lettuce for the first time last year, up here in Alaska. Did it in small containers on my deck because we have a significant veggie predator, the moose, who would find this to be candy. But, after some fiddly (the seeds are microscopic), had good success, and have planted a lot this year. A fabulous salad green that everybody should know about.
That’s awesome! You’re right, more people should know about miner’s lettuce!
This spring was the first year of self seeded Claytonia here in Western NC mountains. I was amazed to find it around in new places where the seeds had fallen between garden and house. After a wonderful long amazing harvest thru winter it finally disappeared. I’m hoping that I’ll have started new places as well. It seems wrong not to see some around. When should I expect to see it again? This year we’ve had the most consistent and persistent rains since I began gardening here in 1981. Will these seeds withstand all that moisture?? Or should I be looking for more seeds??
The seeds should withstand the moisture just fine, they’re really quite resilient. Claytonia comes up very early in the year, and up here in Vermont you can seed it in fall and it’ll sprout as soon as the snow melts. Down there further south where you are, it might well grow in the winter months without issue. I’m not sure how to advise you on timing, as our climate up here in VT is a lot different than yours, but it should sprout even earlier than other spring greens (like spinach) and you should see the greens around when you see dandelion greens or chickweed sprouting.
Kelly J Owens
If I send you a picture can you confirm if what I have growing is miners lettuce?
I would suggest looking at several different resources for foraging identification. My rule of thumb is to consult at least 3 different reputable resources to make a positive identification. Another great way to get to know plants for foraging is to actually plant some seeds and grow them yourself. Once you have seen them growing then they will be much easier for you to identify.
Hello I bought some claytonia seeds three years ago from our local nursery. I believe they were halifax seed. I planted the seeds in a big plastic pot and when fall came they were still growing and then the plant got put in the greenhouse. We forgot about it and around end of february we got into the greenhouse and there was the claytonia(miners lettuce) just as beautiful and healthy looking as in the fall when it was put in there. That spring we put the plant outside and it flourished until it died off a bit. So I cut the faded parts off and cut it down to the roots. By the next week it was growing up again. Its out there in the greenhouse now and when I get the door cleared out I will see if its still alive. I got a funny feeling it still is. It is an amazing plant. It sure is a survival green.
Want to harvest my self-sowing miners lettuce which is going to seed but not sure at what point to do so. Can’t find any info online. All everyone talks about is it self-seeds and how to harvest in the wilds. Mine are in bloom at the moment after being protected by large plastic storage tubs through quite a few -18 degree winter nights. At what point will the seeds pop out? I waited too long last year. Want to plant them in a more shady area.
The seeds ripen after the flowers are pollinated but will quickly drop. You will just have to keep a close eye on them. If you are wanting to move them to a different area, it might be easier to just transplant them.