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What Is It?
A tender leafy green member of the purslane family (Montiaceae). It gets its name from its popularity among California gold rush miners in the 19th century. It was revered for its ability to provide much-need vitamins and nutrients (for free) after a stark winter. Miner’s lettuce is native to regions west of the Rocky Mountains from Canada through Mexico and Central America. It has also been introduced and become widely naturalized in Western Europe.
Indian lettuce, winter purslane, spring beauty; Montia perfoliata.
Forage from clean, uncontaminated wild locations (see ‘Need More Detail’ below), or from reputable wild food sellers at farmers markets, etc.
Bright, fresh, young greens without any obvious rot or insect damage. Make sure that wild foods are sourced from areas away from possible contamination (e.g. pesticides).
Difficulty: Low – Simply wash and remove any debris
Generally used raw as a salad green, though it can be
much like spinach.
Short Term: Wrap in a very slightly damp paper towel and refrigerate in an unsealed bag
Long Term: If you have enormous quantities of this green you can blanch and freeze it much like spinach.
Green/Mild – Miner’s lettuce has a mild, slightly sweet, typically green taste, not unlike spinach.
From a purely flavour-focused perspective, spinach makes a good substitute for miner’s lettuce. That being said, the unique appearance of miner’s lettuce is one of its best features, and this is difficult to substitute for.
Miner’s lettuce does not feature particularly prominently in many cuisines, but it is a distinctive feature in modern and historical food cultures from Western North America. It’s a popular garnish and salad green wherever it can be found.
As with many mild greens, miner’s lettuce can be paired with virtually anything that doesn’t overwhelm its delicate flavour. Vinaigrettes, nuts, black pepper, fruits, and sharp cheeses pair well.
As far as food is concerned, there are not significant varieties of miner’s lettuce. Note that many related Claytonia species are also edible, and have a very similar appearance.
Moderately high in Vitamins A & C, with some iron as well.
The entire above-ground portion of the young plant is eaten, including leaves, stems, and flowers. As the plants age in hot weather the leaves become red and dry, and are not generally eaten.
Health & Science
– Miner’s lettuce was an extremely important source of vitamin C during the California gold rush – hence the name.
– Miner’s lettuce was a significant food for many First Nations people in Western North America.
Organic vs. Conventional
As a (generally) wild food, the distinction between organic and conventional is largely inappropriate. Wild miner’s lettuce found in unpolluted areas can generally be considered functionally organic.