I'm cheating a little for this entry in Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging. The picture is almost two years old. (Bean Sprout had just turned three months old and boy, can you see the championship potential in that noble puppy?).
That means this picture was taken at our old house, where we lived on a wild hillside growing with all manner of green things (including poison oak). We lived there for about 11 or 12 years before we discovered we were also growing salad on that hillside.
See all those drooping, elongated heart-shaped leaves in the top portion of the photo? That's miner's lettuce, aka winter purslane, Cuban spinach, and claytonia perfoliata.
It's a delicious, mild, slightly tart, vaguely succulent, somewhat crisp leaf that reminds me of limestone lettuce, aka Bibb lettuce. Very fresh (obviously, if you can pick it in your own yard) and tender, it should be dressed with nothing more aggressive than a light vinaigrette.
Miner's lettuce grows wild in cool coastal areas on the West Coast, and in cool mountain areas too. Its name comes from the 49er gold miners who allegedly rejoiced in the weed's appearance in the spring, after a winter without greens to eat. High in Vitamin C, it must have been a blessing.
On a hunch and a dare, Cranky and I drove out to West Marin a few years ago to find miner's lettuce. I didn't know what to look for, but I came across a lush stand of clean, verdant leaves of some sort growing in a moist spot, filled a bag with them, brought them home, and ate one.
I didn't die, so the next day we tried our first salad of miner's lettuce.
Then, by coincidence, I saw a photo of miner's lettuce leaves that had matured past their pick-by date, and suddenly realized two things: that what we had foraged was the right stuff, and that I'd been seeing that same crazy-looking plant in certain places on our own property: a round, cup-shaped leaf with a stem growing out of the center, itty-bitty white flowers on the top. OMG. Go see what I mean.
So for the next three winters, we enjoyed "homegrown," picked well before the flowers appeared.
Miner's lettuce should be getting ready to harvest in a week or so. But now our backyard is a concrete patio, although perhaps I'll explore in the woods up the hill about half a block from the patio.
And if I don't have any luck there, it's a pleasant excursion to West Marin.