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.