A recent rainy day off found me wandering the oak woodlands on the east side of Mount Diablo. As I ambled into Mitchell Canyon, I stopped to admire the rolling clouds upon the ridge, then looked down to find myself standing ankle-deep in a patch of Claytonia perfoliata, otherwise known in these parts as “miner’s lettuce.” Hmm… Claytonia perfoliata, in Clayton, of all places.
As I chewed a leaf of this mildly sour edible native plant, I was reminded of the richness of spinach. Here in Northern California, I hear clients and farmers alike complain about the “fussiness” of growing spinach. Such a finicky performer often leads to marginal results and wasted garden real estate.
Then it came to me:
“Ah ha,” I said to myself, “Move over spinach: Now is the time to seed and grow miner’s lettuce.” If it’s seeded in the cool, wet season, miner’s lettuce will grow like gangbusters, since it naturally occurs in the wilds December through June. Seeded directly in a patch, it can grow bio-intensively (meaning that the lettuce plants can touch one another or different plants without causing sickness). Conversely, it’s a rare patch of spinach that grows well wall-to-wall in a seeded area.
Miner’s lettuce, like spinach, can be eaten raw, but I recommend it lightly steamed or quickly stir-fried. High in vitamin C, it was prized by gold miners for its nutrition. See it in full splendor at Mitchell Canyon, located on the east side of Mount Diablo State Park, outside the town of Clayton.
Order bulk organic claytonia seed: here
Permaculture designer and educator Joshua Burman Thayer is a regular contributor to Edible East Bay. In his monthly Gardener’s Notebook feature in Edible East Bay’s free e-newsletter, he offers lots more advice on how to implement gardening ideas like this one. Sign up for the newsletter here. Josh has also written for Mother Earth News and Edible Silicon Valley. Find him and his work at nativesungardens.com, and follow him on Twitter at @nativesungarden.