A recent day off found me wandering the oak woodlands of the east side of Mount Diablo in the rain. As I forged into Mitchell Canyon, I stopped to admire the rolling clouds upon the ridge. I then looked down to find myself standing in an ankle-deep patch of Claytonia perfoliata, otherwise known in these parts of Northern California as Miner’s Lettuce.
As I chewed a leaf of this mildly sour edible native plant, I was reminded of the richness of spinach. Later on, as I drove home through the hypnotic driving rain, I was reminded that this appreciation and renewed focus on Claytonia perfoliata, had occurred in, of all places, Clayton, Calif.
“Ah,” I mused, “now the township’s name makes all the more sense.”
Here in Northern California, I hear both clients and farmers alike complain about the “fussiness” of growing spinach. Though a prized edible green, it is a finicky performer which can often lead to marginal results and under-productive garden real estate. Move over spinach, because an old favorite is back in town, for now is the time to seed and grow Miner’s lettuce.
Seeded in the cool, wet season, Miners Lettuce will grow gangbusters. Seeding it directly in a patch, it can grow bio-intensively, meaning that the growing margins can touch one another without causing sickness. Conversely, it has been a rare patch of spinach that has grown well wall to wall in a seeded area.
Miners Lettuce, like spinach, can be eaten raw or steamed or stir fried. Try out this delicious native plant this wet season and see if that stubborn old spinach has to move over to this bio-regional treat, Claytonia perfoliata.
Want to see it in full splendor? Go to Mitchell Canyon State Park, located on the east side of Mount Diablo, outside the town of Clayton.
Order bulk organic claytonia seed from High Mowing Seeds.
Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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