08 November, 2012

Miners Lettuce. Food of the gold rush.

As I cut through the pine shelter belt I came across this.  A plant I did not expect.  Miners lettuce, a native of northern California.
A little stranger plant.  Not where it was expected to be.
So I got down for a closer look to see what it was.  Miners Lettuce!  What was that doing just here.  So healthy and strong.
Doing well this little plant
This exact plant did not come from California as I had some miners lettuce in the vegetable garden some 100 meters away. But I have never had a vegetable garden where there had been escapees at all.

I had grown miners lettuce last summer and we used it quite often.  It is growing at the end of winter under a pine plantation, in an area which is challenging to grow anything.  This plant is doing very well in the circumstances.
Mesclun lettuce and sprouts in a salad, Miners lettuce in addition and some Chilli Prawn skewers on top. Straight balsamic as a dressing worked well.
Miners Lettuce got it’s name from it’s use by the miners who used it to prevent scurvy.  100 grams of miner's lettuce—about the size of a decent salad—contains a third of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron.  
Self sown but where you would expect.  In the vegetable garden.
The Californians who came here for the gold rush in the 1860s left a legacy of Monterey Pine, California Poppy and California Quail.  Perhaps they bought Miners lettuce, but not trace remains now.  Perhaps the 100 years in between when rabbits polished the vegetation in this area till it was like a billiard table.

I had found seedling plants in a farmers market hundreds of kilometers north of here.  And later found a packet of seeds from Kings Seeds  New Zealand's premier seed supply.
Hastings Farmers Market.  June 2011.
It went into the vegetable garden straight away.
October 2011
Four months and it's growing well, right through the netting I put there to keep off the rabbits.

Sue shows Miners Lettuce in her post and pictures in her wonderful Sierra Blog.
It’s natural home is the west coast of the United States and centered in northern California.
While it had been bought to Europe by the early explorers in the 1700s (Spanish) the later population explosion in California bought the American miners in 1949  - the “49ers”

Given the limited diet options of the miners in both California and Otago – they were known to travel into the wilderness taking only a sack of flour – the miners lettuce was useful as it could be planted and harvested very easily and it provided an essential food alternative.


  1. It's strange to see a common CA wild plant growing in someone's garden half a world away. I wonder if our miners helped them spread across CA:

  2. thanks for the link to Sue's post. Always enjoy a conversation that builds up in the comments. I need to remember to add a sprinkle of spekboom leaves to our salad. Another tough succulent, which is edible. To elephants, and people.

  3. I'd always wondered what that plant was, so thanks for the good article and photos.



  4. I live down the road from Arrowtown and like to walk along the tracks by the Arrow River.
    This spring, I saw a large patch of miner's lettuce on the Tobin Track side of the river, about 5 minutes walk from the bridge. I had never seen it before, and although I'm no botanist, I pay attention to the flowers along the tracks. I think that the wet spring and the disturbed soil from slips and work on the track let it flourish.

    Because I have been involved in writing articles for the Lakes District Historical Society, and with the 150th anniversary of gold just celebrated, this discovery seemed like a nice vignette to include in the next issue of The Courier. A photograph with the history of its original discovery and its botanical naming may be in the winter issue if there is room.

    I saw the discussion on the net re the use of the common name miner's lettuce attributed to Lewis and Clark but I think, as did others who later joined the discussion, that this was added by an editor of their compendium.

    So maybe next spring, there will be more of the same along the track!

    Best regards from the other end of the Kawarau Gorge,
    Rita Teele

  5. Good to see miners lettuce getting a fresh start. I recently re-discovered an old goldfields plant and have been studying it's distribution. A form of goji- lycium chinense. Used as a medicinal plant long ago.

    1. Hi David. I would like to hear from you and I would like to see this plant. Ph me 021 655 907. I have read your book on Lowburn.

  6. Wow! I'm so glad to see that you're having success growing this. Once you get it, have it, to speak... I find it likes wet areas, especially...

    1. Hi Sue. It does seem to like the damp. And we have a very hot and dry summer usually. It does have a life of it's own. Appears August, which is the end of winter here, flourishes through Spring, and mostly over and gone by Christmas


I would love to hear from you on any of these posts. This blog is not daily news and I will respond to comments even on backdated posts.