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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 22 March, 2019
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Claytonia: Not a metal band - a super-food you can grow in your back garden

Michael Kelly continues his Grow It Yourself series with claytonia, a leafy veg containing tons of vitamins and which will grow right through winter.

Michael Kelly Grower

IT MIGHT SOUND like a metal band, but claytonia (also called winter purslane or miner’s lettuce) is a really useful, hardy, heart-shaped salad green that can be used to bulk up winter salads and stir-fries.

It was called miner’s lettuce after the Gold Rush miners who valued its high vitamin C content to ward off scurvy. According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of claytonia contains a third of your daily requirement of vitamin C, as well as 22% of the vitamin A and 10% of the iron you need, so this little leaf packs a nutritional punch.

Claytonia is succulent and almost meaty to eat. It will also withstand cooking so it’s excellent as an alternative to spinach and very easy to grow.

Though claytonia will grow in the spring/summer, its real value is in providing us with winter greens from October or November right up until April of the following year.

Sowing

We sow claytonia in module trays in August and September (with four – five seeds per module). After sowing, keep it well watered. The seeds will germinate rapidly.

Growing

After 2-3 weeks, carefully plant out each little clump of seedlings into soil either in the polytunnel or outside, allowing seven – 10cm between plants.

Claytonia prefers cooler temperatures, which makes it ideal for autumn sowing. It will tolerate cold winter temperatures, although it might need to be covered with a fleece or cloche during very frosty weather if grown outside.

Make sure to keep it well watered if you are growing it under cover, or if you get a very dry spell outside (unlikely in the winter).

Harvesting

Cut using a scissors, leaving a few centimetres of the base of the plant in place – you will get at least four or five cuts off each plant over the winter.

Claytonia deteriorates quickly once picked, which is why you will almost never see it available to buy commercially. It will, however, keep in the fridge for a few days.

The leaves are at their tastiest when young and tender. The smaller leaves are great in salads, while larger ones can be cooked. Throw them into a stir fry at the last minute or boil them briefly like spinach.

Recommended varieties

You will not see varieties of claytonia as such.

Problems

It’s a problem-free plant. One could almost say fool-proof. We’ve jinxed it now, haven’t we?

GIY Tips

  1. Claytonia will self-seed easily which you may or may not want – if you don’t want it to see everywhere, pull up the plants before they go to seed in spring. I’ve seen claytonia used as a self-seeding ground cover in woodland areas.
  2. Claytonia is also one of those rare plants that will do well in partial shade, so it’s ideal for a shady part of your garden.

Recipe of the Week – No-Cook Cucumber and Claytonia Soup

I came across this recipe on Marie Viljoen’s excellent New York growing/cooking blog 66 Square Foot. The 66 square foot refers to the size of her Brooklyn balcony – proof if needed that claytonia can be container-grown in small spaces. 

Ingredients:

  • Three cucumbers, not skinned, and chopped roughly (about 2.5 cups)
  • One green tomato, roughly chopped
  • One medium green (young) onion
  • Three garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup claytonia leaves
  • Half of a long fresh green chilli
  • 3/4 cup Greek or natural yogurt
  • Two teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Large pinch of salt
  • Half of a stale pitta bread, broken into pieces
  • Two tablespoons really nice extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Pop all of that into a blender and push the button.

When it is smooth, dip into it and taste. More salt? Sugar? Add a little water if you feel it is too thick, but the cucumbers should have provided the moisture necessary.

Chill, and serve in cups or tumblers or just drink it straight out of the jug, in front of the fridge, in the middle of the night.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Click here for more tips on how to grow your own veg.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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