Tag Archive for mache

An Early Taste For Greens

I am not a professional forager, but I do harvest wild plants for eating. The easy ones are summer berries, autumn berries, and pawpaws; the more glamorous ones, morels & chanterelles (although to be truthful, my husband does most of the mushroom hunting);  the prettier ones edible flowers like this one or that one; we even got spice… and the humbler ones are greens. And at the end of winter, I can’t get enough fresh green things to eat.

With the snow finally receding, I go to the garden for those wild greens. Few fields are safe nowadays because of herbicides, and I don’t gather from active pastures! So they are wild in the sense that I did not plant them, not because they are in the wild. In fact, many people think of those early greens as “weeds”, yet they are flavorful and nutritious.

Mache (Corn salad) is hardly wild, but it reseed wildly in my garden… and I have seen it in at least two graveled parking lots around here. It is anyhow very early, actually growing through the winter – with accelerated growth in March and early April. For me, it bolts mid-April. With the help of a cold frame, one could harvest it in any weather. Without, you just wait for the snow to melt. There! Vibrant green. Fresh. A delicious salad. I wrote about growing mache before, but really I have not planted mache in years. I just let it reseed.

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A small rosette of mache

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A big rosette of mache

A big salad of mache, sprouts, homemade pickled beets, diced chicken. Fast food at its best.

A colorful salad of mache, sprouts, homemade pickled beets, diced chicken, pepitas. Fast food at its best.


Then we have hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), a small peppery green from the mustard family. It’s native to Eurasia but has made a home in many gardens in North America. I did not realize until recently that it was edible. I don’t find the plant overly bitter, more like a strong watercress (which I am told grow around here but I have not yet found any myself). But I pick it before it goes to flower – flowering generally changes the taste of a plant (lettuce becomes bitter for example). In fact, when in seed, the plant explodes it ripe seed head, projecting seeds away… maybe even in the eyes of the weeding gardener… Gatherer, be warned!  Like mache, hairy bittercress grows in a rosette, so I just cut it at the root level with scissors (which is also how I harvest mache). As for any greens, wash well in a big bowl of water to remove any accumulated soil or debris, and remove any yellowed or tattered leave. Leave the rosette whole or break it. We eat it raw in salad, but it can also be cooked… should you happen to gather several gallons of it.

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Hairy Bittercress in the garden


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A large-ish but young bittercress rosette

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A small bittercress rosette, upside down


Finally, the third green that’s abundant for me right now is chickweed (Stellaria media), another European native. It’s a bit tattered at the moment now because of the melting snow, but in a week or two, it’ll just be blush againl. Chicken of course adore chickweed, and soon enough, we’ll share. Meanwhile the tips go in salad. If I feel fancy, in early April, I’ll gather whole plants and make a puree soup of the most beautiful green.


People also harvest dandelion greens and field cress, but I find them too bitter when raw, and I just don’t cook them. If I want cooked greens, I can reach in my freezer; I am hankering for salad right now, so mache, hairy bittercress and chickweed are helping to bulk up the salad bowl. And for that, I am grateful.





The Taste Of Green

I simply love this time of the year when the days are clear, the nights are cool, the maples are blooming, the buds are swelling on the trees, and so many green things – good to eat too – are poking out of the ground, or just starting to grow for real.


  • The acid green of sorrel. Lemony flavor in our salads and tart soups and sauces. Lovely with potatoes.


Enamored of Mache

The last three winters since we’ve been here, I have been able to grow salad greens throughout most of the winter. While it dipped down to 0F (-18 C) in February of 2007 (or was that 2006?), there was a thick snow cover that helped to mitigate temperatures on the ground – and in my improvised cold frames – as well as insulate plants from the effects of desiccating winds.

Not this year! Not having set-up my second-hand hoophouse cold frames yet, everything is growing in the open or under agricultural fabric layers. Growing… or dying that is, since we have seen -5F (-21C) without snow covers and icy drying winds sucking the life out of my kitchen garden.


The arugula, cutting celery & parsley while alive do not look too happy – darn right bedraggled, actually. The mature Swiss Chard has expired in a messy brown & slimy goo (the seedlings seem OK). The lettuce has rotted to the base. Since they may send side shoots in early spring, I am leaving the stumps. The bokchoi, tatsoi and the likes are still buried under their blanket of straw. The mache, however… the mache… is green, and while I would not call it “lusty”, it certainly looks good enough to eat. Which is what we are happily doing, as seen pictured with this slab of homemade pate.

What is mache, you ask?

If you are English, that’s “Corn Salad” or “Lamb’s Lettuce”, in German “Feltsalat” or “Ackersalat” and in Italian “Valeriana”. While there are many species of mache, each slightly different in taste, leaf form or color, Valerianella locusta is the one you are most likely to find in cultivation. It originates from Eurasia, and grow wild in many places in Europe and the British Isles. I read that it also escaped cultivation in the North Eastern US, but I have not found it in the wild (I have also not looked!). There is also an Italian species Valerianella eriocarpa which is not as cold hardy. Read more