John Bidwell probably discovered miner’s lettuce the first winter that he lived in California. After a steady diet of beef, beans, and game, anything green would be welcomed for the sake of variety, if nothing else.
Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is a short, bright green annual plant with fleshy leaves, with a texture like spinach. It grows in the wintertime in the Central Valley and along the Pacific Coast, and in early spring in the Sierra foothills. The gold rush miners ate it to augment their limited diet, and to prevent scurvy.
In January and February miner’s lettuce springs up all over the patch of ground between our front lawn and the road. We have quite a spread of it. I pick it to put in salads, and my grand-daughters like it to snack on when they are playing at grandma’s place. When I nibble on it, I like to think of the connection to the forty-niners, and the native Californians who also enjoyed this springtime delicacy.