Corn salad (Valerianella locusta) is a tiny but tender lettuce grown from autumn through winter here on the temperate Adelaide Plains. We are still harvesting ours, but expect the warmer weather to cause it to bolt to seed. This is fine with me; corn salad self-seeds year after year, especially in rocky crevices in retaining walls.
I suspect that corn salad is not well-known among Australian gardeners unless they have some relationship to Europe. In our house, with its mix of Australian and German cuisine, the cook plagued the gardener often and longingly with tales of the Feldsalat (literally, field salad) that she had enjoyed during German winters – often the only green salad vegetable available over there, thanks to its cold-tolerance.
As peace and the cook’s happiness are every gardener’s dream, I went to some trouble to bring some Feldsalat seed back to Australia. [Imported seed must be in sealed coloured commercial seed packets having the Latin name upon it to be able to get past quarantine authorities at the airport].
Then I discovered the English name for this small plant – Corn Salad or Lamb’s Lettuce. In France it is known as Mache or Doucette.
Corn salad seed is available from heritage seed companies such as Eden Seeds in Queensland. According to their seed packet, it ‘looks like a small loose-leaf lettuce, is used in salads or cooked like spinach, and is high in vitamin C’.
And why is it called ‘corn salad’?
Well, according to the Seed Savers Handbook, ‘corn salad derives the name from its natural occurrence in fields of wheat, once called “corn” in England. It grows wild over southern Europe and western Asia’.
As Spring moves along we are eating salads made from plants grown during winter; corn salad, snow peas and nasturtium flowers.