Winter purslane: how to grow Claytonia perfoliata
Winter purslane is a lesser-known winter vegetable that makes for a perfect salad herb. Here, you will learn how to grow, harvest and use so-called miner’s lettuce.
In the cold winter months, fresh vegetables from your own garden are a must. Winter purslane (Claytonia), also known as miner’s lettuce or spring beauty, is perfect in a crunchy salad or cooked. As well as the standard winter purslane seeds (Claytonia perfoliata), you can also find Siberian miner’s lettuce seeds (Claytonia sibirica) in shops. Both plants can be cultivated and used in the same way. Here, we explain how.
Origin, taste and characteristics of winter purslane
If you are looking for a fresh winter vegetable, you will soon come across winter purslane (Claytonia perfoliata). Part of the Claytonia genus and Monitaceae family, winter purslane originated in the western mountainous and coastal regions of North America, but has been at home in the UK for many years now. Depending on your region, the annual herb may be known as winter purslane, miner’s lettuce, Indian lettuce, spring beauty, or palsingat.
Whatever its name, this hardy plant grows to about 30 cm, and forms, at its base, succulent leaves in a rosette. It is these leaves that allows the herb to survive short dry spells. The lower, older leaves have long shoots, while the younger leaves grow together in pairs along the stem. The younger leaves fuse to form a disc below the flower head at the end of each stem – a unique feature of winter purslane.
Between February and May, and sometimes into June, this annual vegetable blossoms with white or subtle pink inflorescences, each holding 5 to 40 individual flowers. These flowers are self-pollinating and form small seeds, which the plant then spreads annually.
The taste of raw winter purslane is similar to lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta), although its flavour is less intense. When cooked, miner’s lettuce resembles spinach (Spinacia oleracea).
What is the difference between winter purslane and common purslane?
Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) of the genus Portulaca from the purslane family (Portulaceae) is often confused with winter purslane. Visually, however, the plants are quite different: common purslane does not form a rosette of leaves and flowers yellow, while winter purslane has disc-shaped leaves on its flower stems. Both plants, however, can be used in the same way. They are both winter vegetables that you can cook or eat fresh in a salad, and both were formerly used in medicine.
Winter purslane cultivation: location and sowing
Winter purslane is undemanding and easy to cultivate. It needs a semi-shady, moderately warm home and good soil, and grows just as well in a plant pot as a flower bed, because its root system is so shallow.
In nature, winter purslane grows in nutrient-rich, sandy earth that is low in salt; the plant does not tolerate salt well! As such, a humus-rich, loose soil is ideal. Importantly, the soil should hold water, but not waterlog.
Before sowing your seeds, add a little compost or potting soil to your bed or pot. This will supply winter purslane with nutrients throughout its growing period. Our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost works well for this. It contains slow-release nutrients and coconut pulp, which supplies water to the plant over an extended period. This soil is also peat-free, which reduces CO2 emissions.
- Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables such as chillies, courgettes & more
- For strong & healthy plant growth as well as an abundant vegetable harvest
- Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
As claytonia seeds need a cold stimulus to germinate, the best time to sow them is between September and March, provided temperatures are below 12°C – ideally, the temperature will sit somewhere between 8 and 12°C. Sow the seeds about 5 cm apart in trays about 1 cm deep. A row spacing of 10 to 15 cm is fine. The seeds will germinate after two to three weeks, depending on the weather.
Winter purslane care: top tips
Winter purslane requires little by way of nutrition for healthy growth, so there is no need to fertilise it. If you mix in some compost or potting soil before sowing, miner’s lettuce will be healthy and vigorous without fertlisation. However, the vegetable is sensitive to drought because of its shallow root system, so ensure it receives a constant supply of water. And to prevent its uncontrolled spread, cut off its flowers regularly before they ripen into seeds.
Harvesting and storing winter purslane
Just six to eight weeks after sowing, the first leaves of winter purslane will be ripe and ready for harvest. Between October and April, cut away ripe leaves using a sharp knife, making sure the harvested leaves are at least 2 cm from the ground. This protects the plant and stimulates leaf formation, promoting future harvests.
Winter purslane is best eaten fresh, as it cannot be stored for long. The cut leaves can be placed loosely in a bowl and covered with a damp cloth for about six to eight days in the refrigerator.
Winter purslane: nutrients and use
Miner’s lettuce can be enjoyed raw or cooked. Almost the entire plant is edible: the young leaves, stems and flowers taste best raw, while the roots and older leaves are delicious cooked, or, otherwise slightly bitter. If you are stuck for ideas, winter purslane salad is a sure win.
Besides a high vitamin C content, winter purslane is packed with magnesium, potassium and iron! In contrast to other lettuce plants, Indian lettuce does not cause high nitrate intake. American Indians, and many other indigenous peoples, used the plant for food and medicine. Its leaves were used as a poultice for rheumatism and eye pain, while its juice was a remedy for loss of appetite.
Fancy more home-grown vegetables next winter? Then read our article on growing and caring for salsify.