Mache (Valerianella locusta), also called lamb lettuce, or corn salad, is a small annual leaf vegetable. It is used raw much like lettuce, but only grows in cooler weather.
Mache self seeds in my garden, but not as readily as I would like. I would prefer if this self seeded a whole lot more because I really like to eat it. It also grows with no help from me at all, mostly because it grows over the cooler months when it tends to rain a bit here.
Mache is a rather obscure salad vegetable that is only eaten by those who grow it themselves or people who forage for it if it grows wild near them. Archaelogical evidence shows that it was eaten in the Stone Age lake dwellings throughout Switzerland. It used to be very popular in Europe because it survives cold weather.
Mache practically disappeared once large scale farming became the norm. It does not cope with storage or transport, and it has to be harvested by hand, so if you want to eat it you really must grow it yourself. Given how simple it is to grow, how tasty it is, and how nutritious it is, I think everyone should have a little self-seeding patch of corn salad in their yard.
|Mache corn salad leaves|
Mache is tremendously more nutritious than lettuce, and in my opinion tastes far better than any lettuce. Its downfalls are that it won't grow during the warmer months, and it is dreadfully low yielding.
I often forget all about this little plant until it germinates, then I impatiently wait for it to grow large enough to eat. I think most people pluck entire plants to eat but I pick individual leaves so each plant can eventually flower and drop seed. After mache flowers it drops seed and dies, then I forget about it until the seeds start to germinate the following winter. I don't tend to collect seeds, I just let them fall and remain in the soil to germinate where they want to.
Much like everything that you grow from seed, each generation you are applying selective pressure and creating at least some genetic drift. In my garden the smaller and slower growing plants are eaten and not allowed to flower. The larger growing plants are allowed to flower and drop seed, this ensures the next generation carry strong genetics and are capable of producing larger healthy plants.
I started with seed for 'Dutch' mache. I was told that they would produce the largest plants. The plants were tiny, but delicious, so well worth growing. After a few generations I now have plants that have slightly larger leaves.
This is still a small plant and always will be, you would need to grow a lot to feed your family, but I enjoy the time of year when it is growing in my garden.
|Miner's lettuce on left and mache on the right|
This is one of the leaf vegetables that I wish grew during the heat of summer. Unfortunately I doubt that it will ever be able to grow over summer.
I really should track down a few varieties and let them mass cross and try to select for larger plants. For now I am enjoying eating the plants, after they drop seed I will likely forget about them until it is cool enough for them to germinate again.