After a long, gray and wet winter, sun breaks are a welcome sign of spring in Oregon and we make the most of it, even if the threat of a misting rain is not very far off in a hovering cloud.
Mom and I took the dogs for a walk in a park not far from our home during one of the pauses in the rain, and I discovered to my surprise that several of the towering Douglas Firs in a grove at the edge of the park had green shawls of miner’s lettuce around the bases of their trunks. Miner’s lettuce grows wild in the woodlands of Oregon but its season is a brief one and it withers and dies back as soon as the rains stop and the weather warms.
Native Americans ate this wild green. Early settlers of the Pacific Northwest also ate it. Folklore has it that California Gold Rush miners ate it to prevent scurvy, and thus its nickname. It’s also known as winter purslane, spring beauty or Indian lettuce.
It has a flavor somewhere between spinach and watercress: green with a slight peppery bite. And it’s very high in vitamin C. In the late spring when the weather starts to dry out, it can develop a slight lemony flavor like French sorrel.
We’ve had miner’s lettuce only once before, when I found it at a vendor at the Salem Saturday Farmer’s Market. We thoroughly enjoyed it in a salad topped with seared scallops and we were eager to have some more.
There was a break in the rain again today so I decided to go back to the park and forage for some to serve as a salad with dinner. Only in Oregon could one think of going foraging for something to serve with dinner!
If you’d like to try miner’s lettuce as a change of pace but don’t live in the Northwest or you’d rather not go foraging for it, you can order it from Marx Foods, a gourmet food online mail-order company. If you live in Portland, you can also check with City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave, (503) 221-3007.
Miner’s Lettuce Salad with Pomegranate Dressing
- 8 cups (1.9 l.) washed miner’s lettuce
- Radish slices for garnish
- ¼ cup (60 ml.) Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml.) salt
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) dried thyme
- Arrange the miner’s lettuce in the center of each salad plate and ring the plate with radish slices.
- Combine pomegranate juice, olive oil, vinegar, salt and thyme in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Drizzle over salad and serve.