Spring is a time of renewal. Baby animals are born and plants that have lain dormant all winter emerge from the soil. If you’re hiking in woods close to a creek, you might find miners lettuce proliferating in clusters of small, circular green leaves.
Miners lettuce got its name from the California gold rush miners who ate it to replace the vitamin C they needed to fight their winter scurvy. Although Native Americans knew about its curative properties long before the miners came, and also knew that pine needles and strawberry leaves could keep them healthy through the winter months, it was the miners who gave the plant its common name.
Both the leaves and stems of miners lettuce are similar in taste to iceberg lettuce. You can add it to sandwiches and salads just as you do any lettuce. Furthermore, unlike many wild edible plants, miners lettuce does not grow stale or bitter as it ages but remains delicate and mild through its entire life cycle.
The plant grows between February and May, with tiny flowers of five white petals coming at the end of the growing season. It can reach a height of eight inches, though is usually shorter.
If you gather miners lettuce in the spring, be careful. Poison oak grows beside it along the creeks and could give you an allergic rash if you touch it by mistake.