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A Neighborhood Native

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

We are Edith and Paul Bourbin and we have been volunteering with Sutro Stewards for a number of years. You may have seen us in the nursery or on Saturdays with the habitat crew. Ever since the lock-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have both been struggling to get enough physical exercise. One of the best ways of exercising is to walk; especially up and down the hills we have in our neighborhood. As we have walked, we have gotten to know our neighbor’s front gardens very well. We have noticed the Spring emergence of Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliate).

Edith has been trying to grow this native in our back yard for a couple of years to no avail. What surprised us was that the plant was flourishing in several nearby gardens; even the unkept ones. We even saw it in sidewalk cracks. We remember being told, at the nursery, that Miner’s Lettuce is very difficult to transplant, but it seems to reseed very well.

Miner’s Lettuce is an annual that can survive as a perennial in mild climates. It likes shade/partial sun, moist soils and high humidity. San Francisco’s foggy areas are ideal. It is best cultivated by sowing seeds in the Fall. It flowers from about March to May. The white flowers grow above a pair of leaves that are connected together around the stem so as to appear as a single circular leaf.

Miner’s Lettuce got its name from use by miners during the California Gold Rush. Because it is high in Vitamin C, as well as Vitamin A, Omega-3 fatty acids, Iron, it was eaten to prevent scurvy. The miners probably learned this from the local Native Americans. The Native Americans commonly gathered wild greens such as: Lamb’s-Quarters, Dandelion greens and Purslane, of which one is Miner’s Lettuce. The greens were eaten either fresh or cooked in soups and stews.

We have a recipe adapted from “Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking”:

Wild Greens and Flowers Salad

1 cup each of Water Cress, Baby Spinach (a substitute for Lamb’s-Quarters), Miner’s Lettuce and Nasturtium leaves and flowers

For dressing: 1/3 cup Olive Oil (this is a substitute for Corn Oil or Sunflower Seed Oil)

2 teaspoons fresh chopped dill weed

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon of honey

Rinse greens and flowers and pat dry. In a salad bowl, combine honey and vinegar and whisk in the oil. Add the dill, greens and flowers. Toss gently. Serve immediately.

Freshly cut Miner’s Lettuce will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. After washing, wrap the leaves in a moist paper towel and place in a plastic bag. Young leaves have a sweet greens flavor, while leaves with flowers have a peppery taste. Don’t go overboard, however. Occasionally Miner’s Lettuce can sometimes accumulate toxic amounts of soluble oxalates (also present in spinach).

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