Saving Miner's Lettuce Seed
May 07, 2013
If you live in California, and want to grow this wonderful edible native plant, miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), now is the time to save some seed. I wrote about it in Golden Gate Gardening, as an edible weed, but it's so good it is worth growing on purpose.
If miner's lettuce grows somewhere nearby, you can collect it now, save the seed. Then, in Fall, you can scatter it. It should be well up in December, and then will make its lovely, succulent leaves, so delicious in a salad, until the following April.
To find seed for next year, look now, in late April or in May, for plants with circular leaves that are still green and have long flowering stems. Thse will have a number of seedpods forming on the stems, with maybe a flower at the top. Gather some of these leaves, or, if you like, a whole plant bearing a few of them.
Spread what you have collected on newspaper indoors. Use a fully opened piece of newsprint, or maybe two or three together. As the pods dry, the seeds will pop out, and will actually jump up to a couple of feet from the pod. Thus you will find them all around the paper, or, if it is too small, on the floor nearby. The seeds are small, rounded, and shiny black. They have a white tip on one side where they were attached to the pods.
The process will take a week or two. Here you can see the seeds and bits of pods around a plant that is drying. After the seeds pop out, you will have to separate them from the chaff. You can do this with various kitchen items, such as collanders or sieves. I used a sieve, which left me with some tiny fine chaff mixed with seeds, then blew lightly to get the chaff to fly away. It doesn't have to be perfect, of course, but seeds are easier to sow if they are free of debris, and also any bits of plant mixed with them can bring moisture that can lead to decay.
Here's a closer view of some of the seeds before I cleaned out the chaff. After you've removed most of the chaff, keep the seeds in an open dish or jar for a couple more weeks, to make absolutely sure they are dry. Then you can store them in a paper packet or you can close the jar. Be sure to label your seeds as Miner's Lettuce and write the date of the year you saved the seed.
Make a note in your calendar so you'll remember plant the seed in October. Scatter it in an out-of-the way corner of your garden, in moist soil you have amended and dug. Scratch the soil surface a bit after you sow, pat the surface lightly, and then water. Water to keep the surface moist if rains don't do it for you. The seed leaves are long and narrow. The first few leaves will be triangular. Then the mature leaves form, the round ones. You can eat them, flowers and all, after the flowers start to form in their centers, but when the flower stems elongate they are ready for another year of seed saving. Or just let some fall in place, in hopes the plants will self-sow!
Here's a salad containing miner's lettuce, corn salad, edible flowers, and some cut up chard stems.
Children know to eat wild foods. In the modern world, we move about, losing touch with what is locally edible, and with the population density of cities, there is little wild food for the size of the population. The knowledge is lost in a generation or two. But the wild foods are still there if we look, or if we choose to grow them.
Miner's lettuce can self sow, no more than vegetables such as arugula or mustard if they go to seed. It is a California native plant, so by definition is not a woodland invasive. I say the more the merrier, but it is easy to pull out or dig under if it is in the way.
Posted by: Pam Peirce | February 15, 2022 at 04:05 PM
I grew up in Salinas, California the "Lettuce Capital of the World". South of town, along HWY 68, there was a large strip of BLM land that us kids would explore. Beneath thick stands of oak trees covered in Spanish moss, Miner's Lettuce would tide us over between lunch and dinner--if the deer didn't get to them first!
Posted by: Linda | February 14, 2022 at 07:27 PM
Thank you very much for this article. I live in the Czech Republic where the climate is rather different from California. This winter I sew some miner´s lettuce into the greenhouse. I was wondering if I can take my own seeds to avoid buying new ones every year. Your article provided some very useful info.
Posted by: Jana | May 14, 2016 at 11:25 PM
Thank you for the instructions--going out to gather some seedheads from my overwintered claytonia today!
Posted by: Kris | April 23, 2016 at 01:02 PM
Thanks for the interesting info! I would no have known to let it dry more before packing it up.
I had a whole carpet of it come up in a graveled area, and it did shade out other weeds which is good. But it cannot handle much disturbance, so there is no trouble with it being invasive in behavior. For me it self sows and lives in uncultivated spots, but rarely appears on planting beds that are frequently worked. If i spot one amongst my lettuce or spinach i just simply add it to the salad. We have been adding a small plant of it to our smoothies everyday. Now that Sacramento is hitting 80 degrees, i gathered seed today and am pulling it up to compost.
I just took a shallow bowl outside and shook seeds into it. I found that the seeds fall and collect in the cups of lower leaves, and it was easy to gather about a tablespoon in 20 minutes. These will be a gift for a friend who has none in his yard.
Posted by: Steph | March 16, 2014 at 12:51 PM
Invasiveness is partly in the eyes of the beholder. In a food garden, I'm pleased when some plants resow themselves. I enjoy volunteer mustards, arugula, parsley, cilantro, chervil, etc. I even had a volunteer purple-podded pole bean last summer that bore earlier and better than the ones I planted later. Miner's lettuce will self-sow, but has easily recognized, easy to remove, seedlings. if they come up where I don't want them, I just pull them out. In my ornamental garden, I tolerate seedlings of California poppy, breadseed poppy, cineraria, forget-me-not, nasturtium, Virginia stock (Malcolmia maritima), nigella, Johnny-jump-up, and Linaria purpurea, and maybe some others I don't recall right now. Oh, I have some new columbine and bidens seedlings this year, too. When I am weeding, I just remove volunteer seedlings I don't want, or transplant them, if I'd like them to grow somewhere else. I consider miner's lettuce a self-sower that is among those least likely to be a problem. I have had no problem confining it to one or two locations where I can harvest it. It doesn't transplant well, so the trick is to find it a place and remove it if it pops up elsewhere.
Now if I had a garden where nothing was supposed to self-sow ever, I imagine I wouldn't want to grow miner's lettuce. But that garden I would find far less interesting.
Posted by: Pam Peirce | May 13, 2013 at 02:14 PM
Thanks for the tip- I'm wondering though: can miner's lettuce become invasive?
Posted by: paul | May 08, 2013 at 09:09 AM