An excellent salad green, a bit like spinach and easily recognised. Often available from February onwards. A native of north America but now present across Europe, but not considered invasive.
The plants form as rosettes from 5 to 15cm, rarely 30cm tall. They can form extensive patches of 10m or more where the habitat suits them, also taking advantage of their early season growth before other plants start to grow.
|Miner’s lettuce, Winter Purslane, Indian lettuce
The leaves are bright green and fleshy with a smooth edge and a waxy coating. There are three different shapes, the basal (see section below), the mature, and the leaves associated with the flowers (cauline).
The mature leaves are leaves shaped like the ‘ace of spades’, and 1 to 5cm across.
The circular leaves surrounding the flower stems are in fact two leaves fused together, but without stems (petioles) so directly attached to the stem. One of our photos shows where the leaves did not fuse and can be seen as separate.
As the plant ages the leaves turn red.
Shady damp patches often under trees or hedges, early season before the leaves appear to block out the light.
Euphorbia or spurge (several types in the UK, one pictured opposite). These are the only similar toxic plants. The euphorbias have unusual flowers with circular parts surrounding the centre that superficially resemble miners lettuce. However all the euphorbia family have multiple flowers on a stem, that are usually yellow or green, have multiple elongate leaves on a stem, and when damaged produce a caustic white sap.
The other plant that does resemble miners lettuce is pink purslane, the closely related Claytonia sibirica, that is again a lovely edible salad plant. This has much larger pink flowers with notches in the tips of the petals, and without the collar of leaves.
All except the roots are eaten raw in salads, or cooked like spinach which it is similar to in taste and composition.
Locally common, but often overlooked due to its early season and shady habitat.
Packed with vitamin C
A native of north America it was named miner’s lettuce as it was popular with the frontier gold rush miners in California who ate it for its vitamin C content to ward off scurvy. Its introduction to europe is widely attributed to a Georgian botanist bringing it back to Kew Gardens in London.