Our Veg of the Month: Claytonia

Claytonia, originally known as miner's lettuce, was eaten to prevent scurvy due to its high vitamin C content. It is also considered a good source of beta carotene and protein. Fleshy for a salad crop, it is usually bright green in colour with rosette leaves and small pink or white flowers. The taste is often described as something between spinach and sprouts.

Origins & Varieties
Claytonia or Miner’s Lettuce: Claytonia perfoliata. Family Montiaceae (also called Indian lettuce, spring beauty or winter purslane).

Claytonia is an attractive winter salad crop, rich in vitamin C. This rather fleshy annual plant is native to the western mountains and coastal regions of North America, found growing from southern Alaska to California. The common name miner's lettuce refers to its use by California Gold Rush miners who ate it to maintain their vitamin C levels to prevent scurvy. We eat it as a leaf vegetable, most commonly in salads, and it’s a very useful winter green, tolerant to both low light levels and low temperatures. It can be found growing wild in Britain where it was introduced in the eighteenth century, possibly by the naturalist Archibald Menzies, who first brought it to Kew Gardens in 1794.

Growing Tips & Harvesting
Claytonia likes its growing conditions to be cool and moist. Germination from seed is rapid - just 7 to 10 days. It’s happy in virtually any soil type, although it thrives in moist, humus-rich soil. Plants do best in slightly shaded sites.

These are hardy plants but their leaves are susceptible to hard frosts in winter so may need cloche protection during bad weather. Remove any damaged shoots - new shoots will replace them.

The plant's outer leaves can be harvested from October to March. Continue harvesting Claytonia even when the plant is in bloom; however, it will become bitter when the weather becomes hot.

Storing & Preparation
Claytonia is best eaten fresh, though it can be stored in the fridge for a few days like most lettuces. It can be eaten raw, in salads, boiled/steamed like spinach or blended into smoothies and green juices.

Final words
Also known as winter purslane, claytonia is often found growing wild, more than it is cultivated. It therefore provides a great source of nutrition for animals as well as humans.