Growing Mâche (Lamb's Lettuce or Corn Salad) for Winter Salads

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Mache (also known as lamb's lettuce or corn salad)

Q: When is a weed not a weed? A: When it is the most valuable salad crop in winter!  Last year I set myself the challenge of growing salad all year round which was fine for most of the year but much more of a challenge in winter.  When temperatures are hovering around freezing nothing much grows.  However, there is one amazing plant that can provide fresh leaves when others are dormant: lamb’s lettuce (also known as mâche or corn salad).

Lamb’s lettuce has its origins as a weed which was found growing among cereal crops in Europe.  By all accounts it should be an unremarkable plant - the leaves are small (little more than thumb size) and the plants rarely grow bigger than a single low-lying rosette a few inches in diameter.  It also grows quite slowly (unlike most weeds on that point!) and you need a lot of plants to get a reasonable crop.  All this can be forgiven though because of its ability to provide a source of fresh leaves when little else is available in the garden.

Of course, a late-summer or early fall sowing can yield plentiful supplies of many salad leaves.  Most lettuce will grow well into early winter and there are plenty of oriental salad leaves that actually thrive on shortening daylight hours: arugula, mizuna, mibuna, pak choi and red mustards.  However, two things happen to most of these crops as winter progresses:

  1. The leaves toughen up as the weather turns harsher, giving them a less pleasant texture
  2. The more flavorful leaves (most of the oriental types) become hotter and more peppery in taste
Corn salad/lamb's lettuce/mache

The reason lamb’s lettuce is so valuable is that it doesn’t suffer from these problems.  As it is able to continue slow growth through low temperatures the leaves remain succulent with a slight waxy texture to them which may be what protects them from the elements. Equally important is that the flavor remains mild and delicate, some would say slightly nutty.  I find they make the perfect balance to the sharp flavors of the remaining oriental salad leaves in my garden.

Because lamb’s lettuce grows so slowly it is necessary to sow quite large areas with the seeds to produce a reasonable amount that can be used through winter into early spring.  This should be no problem because most vegetable beds are being cleared when lamb’s lettuce is sown.  In fact, it makes a good cover crop and any excess can be dug into the soil when finished with, enriching it with nutrients for the next season.  So, next year I plan to extend my sowing to cover more beds as I would love to have more of this growing. 

Cloches or row covers can be used to speed up growth but it is important to make sure they are opened on sunny days as a sudden rise in temperature can cause the plants to bolt (run to seed) and stop producing.  I have found covers to be largely unnecessary as my lamb’s lettuce has survived a few weeks of snow covering and still tastes good.

Mache/corn salad/lamb's lettuce

As with most salad crops, lamb’s lettuce can be picked as whole rosettes or harvested by plucking individual leaves every week or so.  Picked leaves will store well in a bag in the refrigerator and just need washing well before use as they are produced so close to the soil.  They can then be mixed with other salad ingredients or dressed with some of the more mild-tasting oils and vinaigrettes. For the more adventurous, why not serve them in traditional French style with beets and walnut oil dressing?

In fact lamb’s lettuce is now finding a place on the menus of many quality restaurants as an ultra-healthy, low-calorie ingredient.  It seems that this one-time weed is making quite a name for itself as a versatile leaf that combines well with other flavors and textures.  So, why not give lamb’s lettuce a try and start growing this weed for fun?  If you do grow it, or have had success with other winter greens then please share your experiences by adding a comment below.

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Comments

 
"I've been growing it for the first time this winter (second winter in a new house with a heavy clay patch for garden space) and it's coping quite well even in the heavy frosts. I'm also growing it with a little more success on my garden work bench that's covered with plastic that's propped up by wood pieces to shield it from the worst weather. It makes a simple shelter for the few things that do grow this time of year. My mum has been growing it for years and introduced me to this tasty little number, she grows other lettuces in her unheated greenhouse and does quite well with those. "
Kimberley on Friday 29 January 2010
"This sounds wonderful! We are starting to garden using garden boxes on our deck. This sounds like a great addition to our deck garden. Thanks so much for the info!"
julia stewart on Monday 1 February 2010
"Want to try this next winter! Dreaming of my garden as we've snow covering the ground and temps in the 20s. My garden blog is: http://mysquarefootgardenadventure.blogspot.com"
Toni Parker on Thursday 4 February 2010
"Would like to add this to my winter garden next year. I had lettuce basically all winter by using my cold frame. i find the lettuce does better if I start it in the fall. I have fallen in love with one called little Jewels. It seems to do well in the winter."
Aunt B on Monday 22 February 2010
"http://mickiesbloominggarden.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/time-to-plant-lettuce/ Put a picture on my blog of your lettuce. "
Mickie Goad on Friday 3 September 2010
"Hi,My garden is mostly of stones over ground cover to sto weeds,which by the way never did.About 5 years ago i had this weed which was later to be called the virus because no weed killer would kill it.Many times i spent hours on my knees picking out every bit of it,yet it still growed on.I took samples to many garden centres,no one could identify my weed.Finaly i took it to the horticultual college at Penkridge.A lading gardner previously from q gardens after hearin my virus story looked at my virus sample and told me i should not be trying to kill it off but rather eating it.She was brilliant exlained that it was Lambs Lettuce etc.Since then i hav'nt touched it its taking over my garden in the stones and in my soil areas.What baffles me is where has it come from.Its now early November and its looking good.Yet why only my garden? I have an open garden,my neihbours garden is allmost interlinked and no sign of a seed on his garden.Can anyone help me with that one? By the way i hav'nt tried eating it yet."
John Aston on Friday 5 November 2010
"Lambs Lettuce can grow wild if it's allowed to flower and reseed itself and it used to be collected by peasants in Europe. The seeds float so rain can spread it around and that may be why you have more of it in your garden around stony areas. I would have some reservations about eating it if you have used weedkillers on it though."
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 6 November 2010
"Thank you Jeremy,and for advice of not eating it after useing weedkiller.Allthough i hav'nt on purpose sprayed weedkiller on the letuce i have used weedkiller on other weeds nearby,My lettuce is looking all laeafy at the momment but in the spring it has many tiny blue flowers.Looking more stalky.I used weedkiller 2 months ago can you give me an idea when i can try eating some.Many thanks.John"
john aston on Saturday 6 November 2010
"I'd give it at least 12 months after the last weedkiller use before considering eating anything, possibly more. However, I am by nature very cautious about weedkiller. Also, the lambs lettuce doesn't taste so good once it is flowering with stalks. The best time to eat it is during winter and very early spring when the growth is new."
Jeremy Dore on Sunday 7 November 2010
"I have had this salad all my life. I am from Germany. In harsh winters we cover the rows of Ackersalat "lamb's lettuce" with evergreen branches. Mostly we get pine branches but i suppose any evergreen would do. "
Gina Lukhart on Wednesday 13 July 2011
"We live in the Southwest with hot summers and cool winters with many nights right around freezing temperatures. I grew up eating lambs lettuce from fall to winter in Heidelberg, Germany - fixed up with bits of "speck" (thick bacon will work) and sauteed shallots. I wonder if I can grew this salad from seeds here and when I should plant them (the temps still hover around 100 F through August. Any help would be appreciated Dankeschoen - Heide "
heide Spruck on Saturday 30 July 2011
"Heide, I would start end of Sept. early Oct. Right now it is just too hot. We are in NC and its hovering in the mid 90's. Gruesse von einer Schwaebin und gutes Gelingen."
Gina Lukhart on Tuesday 9 August 2011
"i am growing these for the first time in small pots and some of them are starting to get a white-grey covering on leaves. are they ok, has any one any info "
rob armstrong on Tuesday 6 September 2011
"I want to grow some as winter food for my little tortoises. Where can I get seeds?"
richard noyes on Monday 27 August 2012
"I am growing my first crop of lamb's lettuce in Tasmania, Australia. Can anyone tell me whether this is Rapunzel Salat? I grew up in England but with German parents who are no longer alive, but my father grew Rapunzel Salat in winter and my baby lamb's lettuces are looking a lot like the Rapunzel of my memories....Also, can anyone tell me whether I can safely transplant the seedlings?"
Brigitte Stoddart on Monday 18 March 2013
"My Google wanderings suggest that Rapunzel Salat is indeed the same plant as Lamb's Lettuce. Taste a tiny bit to be sure. "
granticus on Friday 5 April 2013
"Thanks, granticus, for your encouraging note. I haven't tasted yet, but the little plants are looking more and more like the things my father grew. It will be lovely to have something that grows successfully in winter!"
Brigitte Stoddart on Saturday 6 April 2013
"I planted some last summer from plug plants from the garden centre. They were a bit useless and it all went to seed. The flowers were quite pretty, so I left them and dug in the remains later in the autumn. We've had a few snowfalls and I've not been near the veg patch for months, but when I went out yesterday, a fine crop of lamb's lettuce has grown all by itself. Free food!"
Christine on Sunday 7 April 2013
"I love this stuff! We moved to Germany 2 years ago and I knew it was in the farmer's markets in the cooler times of the year. I am ready to grow my own in my herb garden. I wondered if it had made it to the States because I had never heard of it before. I had Lamb's Quarters growing up (another weed) that we ate growing up and wonder if they are cousins... It makes a good mix or like the person said above, it is good with speck (small bacon like cubes fried crispy)."
Deb on Tuesday 9 April 2013
"I know this wonderful lettuce as 'feldsalat' from my German background. Found the seeds over here and planted some in spring, which did not do so well. The fall seeding is going really well. It's leaves have survived even harsh temperatures and snow and ice. They keep growing leaves, it is so amazing. The taste is mild and nutty, just wonderful with some balsamic vinegar and EVOO and salt, perhaps some onion and garlic. I love this lettuce! "
Bri on Tuesday 31 December 2013
"Rapunzel is not lambs lettuce. Rapunzel is rampion - a type of bellflower that used to be used as a root vegetable."
Liz Croft on Wednesday 25 February 2015
"I am also from Germany and 'Feldsalat' is one of my favorite salads! I got some seed off ebay and quite by accident discovered that this wonderful lettuce grows throughout the entire winter, even when we had snow and frost (I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest). It spreads quickly and grows back if you don't cut it off entirely. I have had fresh lettuce all winter for two years now. In summer I let some plants go to seed and use it to grow new lettuce. It's a joy to harvest these prolific little treasures. Also quite by accident I discovered the 'weed' that always seems to accompany it is pepper cress, they are delicious together. Pepper cress has little round spicy leaves (tiny) and develops a white flower in early spring. I eat the entire plant. Give this a try. Schoene Gruesse an meine deutschen Feldsalat growers, and Happy Gardening everybody! "
Bri Schilling on Monday 2 March 2015
"After living in Austria for 15 years, I've always known Lamb's Lettuce as 'Vogerlsalat' (bird salad) - although I have heard native Germans refer to it as Rapunzel. I am now living in Northern Ireland just outside Belfast and have just (early July) planted two pots of Lamb's Lettuce since the weather here is now cold and wet, more like early autumn than early summer - we'll see how this goes. In Austria we would always eat the Vogerlsalat with a dressing of Kernoel (pumpkin seed oil) - a speciality of the Steiermark region. Happy memories :) "
Dr. Phil Stevenson on Monday 11 July 2016

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