Have you ever gone on a walk in a park or forest trail and noticed a plant that looks just like a lily pad? That’s wild Miner’s Lettuce aka Claytonia Perfoliata!
Miners Lettuce is growing in full force right now here in San Francisco thanks to all the winter rain we’ve been having across California. Every time I walk in the park all I see is endless patches of this wild salad green so we’ve been foraging it a lot lately for salads.
In this post I’m sharing how to forage Miner Lettuce ethically and sustainably, along with tips on how to identify it and find it!
When I say Miner’s Lettuce is everywhere in San Francisco, I mean everywhere! This plant usually grows in large bunches in shady areas under trees. If you come to the Golden Gate Park in the winter or spring, just look under trees and you’ll probably spot bunches of these wild edible greens.
Is Miner’s Lettuce Edible?
Of course!! The leave and stems are edible. It’s very similar to spinach and lettuce so you can’t really overeat these plants. Go crazy with portions. The leaf is full of Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Iron and can be eaten raw or cooked. As you can probably figure out from the name, this plant was a favorite among folks who came out West in the California Gold Rush.
It was hard to grow veggies in the mountains back then and getting enough Vitamin C was always a risk of settlers and miners so they foraged claytonia. These days, it’s still a popular plant to forage for urban homesteaders since it’s so easy to identify and can be used in tons of recipes.
Fun fact: Claytonia Perfoliata was so beloved by explorers that the seeds were spread by British Colonizers all across the globe from Cuba to Australia. Eventually, it became considered a weed in Britain since it grows so easily.
How To Forage Miner’s Lettuce In the Wild
Kara and I love to forage Miner’s Lettuce whenever we’re making salads. It’s easy to find and plentiful for most of the year and it tastes really great either in salads or as a standalone green. We first learned about Claytonia during a foraging class in San Francisco and it’s now our go-to plant to wild harvest. there’s something really fun about popping outdoors and bringing home you foraged with your two hands.
Miner’s Lettuce Identification
Claytonia is very easy to recognize. They usually grow in large patches together and multiple stalks will grow some the same clump. A younger leaf is shaped like a spade, and almost like a heart, but later will turn in an upside-down umbrella shape. I’ve seen the leave be tiny or as big as the palm of my hand, depending on the stage of growth. Once it’s full-grown, there will be a white flower in the middle.
It frequently is found alongside Chickweed and Hemlock so keep and eye out for those. The latter can be poisonous and shouldn’t be picked, but Chickweed is tasty!
Where To Find Miner Lettuce
Miner Lettuce grows in the wild all the way from the West Coast to the Great Plains but is most commonly found on Washington, Oregon and California. It’s especially abundant here in California near the coastline in parks, bluffs, landscaped areas, gardens and even on the side of the road.
It loves wet conditions which is why it grows mostly in Winter and Spring, and is extra bountiful after a very wet winter. You might find it in the summer but once it gets too hot it’ll dry out.
Find Miner’s Lettuce in the shade, usually under trees, in the winter season.
How To Harvest Miner’s Lettuce
It’s best to harvest during it’s peak winter growth season, usually January or February. It’s still edible at the end of the wild season in March, April, etc but by late spring it can get sour or less flavorful.
Harvesting claytonia in the wild needs to be done with care, just like all foraging. Out here in the Bay Area, it can take over entire fields so it can be easy to get a little loosy goosy on cutting. A good rule of thumb is to not cut more than 1/3 of a clump and 1/3 of a patch.
Ok, when I find a large patch of Miner’s Lettuce that’s off the main path (so the plant has less risk of being covered in dog pee or exhaust fumes) I get ready to cut and harvest. I cut lower on the stem of the plant with scissors and take home the stem and leaf. It important not to yank the plant as it’s shallow-rooted.
Is Miner’s Lettuce Invasive? Yes, it is classified as an invasive species but you still should practice care not to overharvest in the wild or yank out the roots. A big part of ethically foraging is respecting nature and not overkilling unless on a specific trail project to do so.
How To Eat And Prepare Wild Miner’s Lettuce
Start by thoroughly washing any food you forage as the plant will may be covered in exhaust fumes, fertilizer, urine and so one. It’s for these reasons that I try my best to forage in spots off the beaten path so to avoid these risks as much as I can.
Once you have washed and dried your lettuce (we use a salad spinner) you have a few choices here! Kara makes a great salad with olive oil and seasonings like truffle salt and garlic powder. Usually, we do about half miner’s lettuce and half a mix of storebought mix with kale, lettuce, spinach, etc.
But there are more creative ways to eat and use miner’s lettuce in cooking! Here are some ideas:
- Omelets with sauteed miner lettuce, potatoes and cheese.
- 100% miner lettuce salad with goat cheese and fresh local strawberries.
- In a miso soup (chopped and boiled with the broth.)
- Homemade miner’s lettuce pesto.
How To Grow Claytonia / Miner’s Lettuce
Growing miner’s lettuce is actually really easy and can be a great part of your organic gardening practice. Plant the miner’s lettuce seeds in shade or behind a large plant like corn, bean trellis or tomatoes that offer shade. You’ll want to plant the seeds about 4 weeks before the last spring frost or as soon your soil can be worked and tiled.
If you are using hydroponics in your apartment, then it doesn’t matter what time of year you plant the seeds. Just make sure not to keep the grow lights on too long, or perhaps shade it manually to replicate how it grows in the wild.
But, there’s no need for us to grow it in our apartment since it’s so readily available, but that’s an option. Foraging Miner Lettuce is easy, fun and tasty. Try it today and let me know if you have luck, and what recipe you make with your haul in the comment below!