Claytonias – miner's lettuce, wood purslanes and spring beauties

The Claytonias are a very useful group in the forest garden, being very palatable species whose natural habitat is woodland.

Claytonia perfoliata, miners’ lettuce, is unusual in the genus in that it is an annual rather than a perennial. It is often grown in greenhouses in Britain as a winter salad, but it is much less commonly found grown outside. It can be difficult to get established as a self-sustaining, self-seeding population, but once you manage it makes an excellent early salad that maintains itself with little fuss. Getting a locally adapted strain might be the key to success: I spent a long time trying it with little luck until I found a population self-seeding itself in the nearby university car park, prospering despite the chemical warfare waged against it by the university’s estates department. Seeds from these plants germinate earlier and grow more vigorously than any that I have ever bought from the seed trade.

Miners’ lettuce is mild-flavoured and succulent so it makes an excellent bulk ingredient for salads. All parts are edible, including the leaves, stems and the unusual-looking large fleshy bract around the flowers. They can also be cooked, for instance in stir fries. In my garden some plants germinate in autumn and are available in small quantities through the winter. Others germinate in early spring and by March I have a good stand of it. It will grow in the open or in partial shade and likes a well-watered soil. It is rich in vitamin C: the name comes from its use against scurvy by gold miners in California’s gold rush. There are two closely related species: C. parviflora and the deep red C. rubra. I can’t find any information on the edibility of these but I’m sure they would be worth investigating: C. rubra in particular would look very striking in a salad.

Claytonia sibirica, pink purslane, is a perennial equivalent of miners’ lettuce. It is widely naturalised in Scotland, to the extent that there are locally named varieties, such as the white-flowered Stewarton flower found in north Ayrshire. It tends to form an extensive carpet in both broadleaf and coniferous woods: this looks spectacular when it flowers. In the forest garden it can be used in the shady areas under crop trees. The flavour is stronger than that of miners’ lettuce – something like raw beetroot.

Other species listed in the literature as having edible leaves include acutifolia, caroliniana, exigua, lanceolata, megarhiza, scammaniana, tuberosa, umbellata and virginica.
Finally, a number of species have edible roots, which go by the name of fairy spuds. Species include acutifolia, caroliniana, lanceolata, megarhiza, tuberosa, umbellata and virginica I haven’t managed to grow or try any of these yet but forager Euell Gibbons described C. virginica roots as tasting like sweet chestnuts when cooked.

7 thoughts on “Claytonias – miner's lettuce, wood purslanes and spring beauties

  1. Peter Ferguson

    Hi Allan where can I get some of these seeds could I buy some from you I sent you a email & asked for a visit no reply will be in Aberdeen in the next few weeks would love to come for a visit let me know if possible . Best regards Peter
    Sent from my iPad

    1. Alan Carter Post author

      Hi Peter. I didn’t see any email – although if it was in the last few days I have been away at a funeral and not checking. You would be welcome to visit. I don’t have any seed just now but you could take away a plant if you like.

  2. skyeent

    Oh, thank you Alan! I spotted some Claytonia sibirica growing near the museum of island life on Skye a couple of years ago and had no idea what it was. My photos weren’t clear enough to tell I thought it was some sort of giant stitchwort – the flowers are very similar in shape. I had no idea it was naturalised like that, and have wanted some (C. sibirica) for ages. I’ll have to go back and see if I can get some seed….

      1. skyeent

        It was just a fleeting look on a family outing, so I didn’t have a chance to look closely. The undergrowth was a bit browsed as well. I’ll hopefully have a chance to go back soon!

  3. Rachel Brooks

    I sowed winter purslane outside here in Worcestershire more than ten years ago, and haven’t had to sow it since. Every year we have tons of the stuff – great for us and the hens, who love it. It’s one of the hardiest of winter saalds, surviving temperatures below -15 C and just thawing and getting on with it afterwards.


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