Easy Early Salads With Perennial Greens

Enjoy fantastic early spring salads with these five great low-care perennial plants.

  • PatienceDock.jpg
    Patience dock is a wonderful addition to early spring salads, and is supereasy to grow.

  • PatienceDock.jpg

It's April here in eastern Kansas and all month I’ve been harvesting great salads thanks to five perennial plants in my garden:

  • regular chives 
  • savory garlic chives 
  • nutty Sylvetta arugula (Diplotaxis muralis)
  • lemony common garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
  • rare patience sorrel (Rumex patientia), aka patience spinach or patience dock 

Who needs to fuss with planting lettuce and spinach when these low-care perennial plants can provide such great salads? Plus, with the exception of patience dock, all these plants are readily available from garden seed companies. We are working with seed companies to add patience dock to their catalogs for 2010.

Rare Patience Dock

Patience dock is a terrific salad plant that anyone who enjoys salads should be growing. Heirloom veggie expert William Woys Weaver wrote about it in Zesty Sorrel: The Garden Green With Zing!, and he sent me a packet of seeds he had saved. No seed companies are currently selling it (but we hope to change that). The leaves are mild-flavored, thick like spinach but without the astringency that spinach often has.

Best of all, it is extremely easy to grow patience dock, and it's a perennial, so it'll come back each year on its own. It comes up very early in spring, so you can enjoy super early salads. Instead of having to plant seeds each year, all you need to do is NOT let your patience sorrel drop seed (just snip off the flowers before they go to seed), or it can become invasive. As the leaves become large and perhaps tough, simply cut the plants back and new, tender leaves will quickly appear. Patience dock is an extremely long-lived plant, and is cold-hardy to at least Zone 4.

Here’s what 19th-century garden writer Bernard M’Mahon had to say about this heirloom plant (American Gardener's Calendar, 1806):

The Rumex Patientia, or patience dock, being a plant that affords an early spring sallad for boiling, and being perennial in root is deserving of a place in the garden. The leaves are very large, long and succulent, and are produced in great abundance; the plant may be propagated by sowing the seed any time this month while the ground continues open, and the plants will rise freely in spring, or you may sow the seeds in March or early in April, but those sown at this time will make stronger and earlier plants; the seeds may be sown pretty thick in drills eighteen inches asunder, and covered about half an inch deep; when the plants are about two inches high, thin them to the distance of eight inches from one another, and so let them remain, always keeping them free from weeds. It may also be propagated by oftsets from the root taken off in the spring or late autumn months, and planted in rows at the above distances. By heading it down frequently during summer, as it starts to seed, you will increase the crops of foliage. 

bob prochazka_6
5/4/2010 6:56:20 AM

received some patience doc seeds from mother two years ago. Like others who have commented, they did not do too well the first year (last year). This year, here in Z5 on the northwest outskirts of milwaukee, I have a beautiful patch of about 12 plants. they are about ten inches tall. to my taste, there is nothing special about the green. BUT. for a trouble free, hopefully reliable perennial, they are just great. I also have orach, red and green, sorrel and lovage which are all doing very well. I am to have about 8 perennial and will be able to come up with two or three salad variations. This is necessary because half of the perennials are not the greatest tasting in the world. nothing like a good caesar salad.

cher gomez_2
4/28/2010 6:59:25 PM

I received patience dock seeds and they did very well. I did not have to do much to them to get them to grow. I just didn't care for the tast. If I knew of one that grew that fast but tasted better I would surely get it.

Linda Goetz Fradley
4/15/2010 6:44:27 PM

I received a package of Patience Dock from Mother Earth News a couple of years ago. The first (early Spring) planting didn't do too well, but then in autumn I noticed that there was some growth. I planted more seeds that fall and in Spring found that I had more plants. This year I have beautiful new plants up about 8 inches or so, as well as older plants in a couple of other areas of my garden. I live in the mountains of SW North Carolina where we had an unusually cold and snowy winter as well as a wet summer of 09 which followed 2 years of extreme drought. Basically, the Patience Dock from last year did the best compared to planting during the drought. I made a wonderful orzo pasta dish tonight with the Patience Dock, some wintered over collards, and grated Parmesan cheese and butter. It was wonderful and the greens were tender and fresh. Thanks Mother. Here's the recipe: 1 1/2 cups orzo pasta 2 tablespoons butter 1 lb greens, chopped grated zest of 1 lemon ground black pepper 1 cup grated cheese..I used freshly grated Parmesan Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Stir in the orzo and cook until al dente. Drain. Return the orzo to the pot, stir in butter and place over medium high heat. Add the greens and lemon zest and cook a few minutes while stirring until the greens wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Plate up and top with the cheese. Makes 3-4 servings.

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