Saturday, February 21, 2009

Golden Corn Salad

Golden Corn Salad volunteering in the gravel patio.

I included a few photographs of Golden Corn Salad in my previous post. Karen asked if corn salad is the same as mâche, which it is, but Golden Corn Salad is actually a bit different. So I thought a post about the Golden variety would be nice to do.

"Vit" Mâche (V. locusta) growing in a pot.

First, let me say a bit about mâche. It has many aliases, including lamb's lettuce and corn salad, but the botanical name of the commonly cultivated varieties is Valerianella locusta. Mâche, under the guise of corn salad, has been in American kitchens since the 17th century (and much earlier in Europe), but it was generally collected from the wild and not really cultivated until the 18th century. The name corn salad comes from the fact that this green was commonly found growing wild in wheat fields and in England wheat was commonly referred to as corn. I don't know the derivation of the name lamb's lettuce.

More volunteers in the gravel under a bench.

Golden Corn Salad is a bit different from the common and easily found varieties. Botanically it is Valerianella eriocarpa. It is also know as Italian Corn Salad since it is native to the Mediterranean and grows wild throughout much of that area, including North Africa. Valerianella eriocarpa wasn't brought under cultivation until the 19th century.

Growing requirements are also a bit different for Golden Corn Salad. Its Mediterranean origins are evident in its cold hardiness. I don't know just what USDA zone it is hardy to, but it's supposedly not as cold tolerant as V. locusta. It does, however, survive my zone 9 winters handily (hmm, well I do live in a Mediterranean type climate zone). On the other hand, Golden Corn Salad is more heat tolerant than other corn salads so it does not bolt as quickly and can be harvested well into June and possibly July if grown in a shady spot. It doesn't seem to particularly fussy about soil, as is evident by how nicely it grows in my gravel patio!

It can grow to be quite large, up to 16 inches (supposedly), when grown in rich soil and has been used as a spinach substitute. It more commonly grows no larger than about 6 or 7 inches in diameter. I tend to sow it rather thickly so it stays even smaller. You can see how large it is growing in the pot below. It volunteered in that pot and is sharing space with a Satsuma mandarin which is on the decline. The corn salad is obviously enjoying the fertilizer that I provided for the mandarin.

The flavor of Golden Corn Salad is considered to be more mild and more nutty than it cousins. I'm not sure I can detect a huge difference, I find both types to be delicious. Both types of cornsalad are wonderful dressed with any kind of nut oil which enhances the nutty quality of the greens.You can see in the photographs that it is not truly golden, but more of light green.

So, you ask, where can you get some seeds? Well, if you are planning a trip to Europe... Or perhaps you have a friend in Europe... Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a commercial source for seeds in the States. Ok, I hear you... where did I get my seeds? The Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, back in, oh.. I don't remember. I requested and received seeds from William Woys Weaver who is the source for all the information that I'm sharing here. Find a copy of his book 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From if you would like to learn even more. Unfortunately, he doesn't list in the exchange anymore. But... I have been saving the seeds and have a tiny bit to share with my fellow north American gardeners. Notice how most of the photos are of volunteers? Well, I was a little late in collecting my seeds last year and many of them scattered around the garden... So, first come, first served.


  1. Loved this post, very informative. I have never grown corn salad, but I do grow my own mesclun greens. And they usually include Corn salad.

    We have a seed company in Canada, called West Coast Seeds. They are absolutely wonderful.

    I looked up corn salad, they sell it as Vit.

    While I am not sure that it is exactly the same, it does say they call it corn salad. They will ship to the US. I think that I might be growing some Corn Salad this year, you have inspired me.

    Hope this gives someone a source for this wonderful green.

  2. That would be fun to grow for an over wintering crop. I'd love some if you think it might be hardy at zone 6. If not, well better to give it to someone else since I can always buy the regular one.

  3. Thank you so much for that information on Corn Salad. Delicious, eh! Hmmm... May be I should check if I'd get that here.

  4. Thanks for this very informative post. Although we grow mache I'm not sure whether it's the corn salad or golden corn salad variety. It's a really useful winter salad plant as it grows all through the winter here - maybe not in colder climates. I wonder whether the name lamb's lettuce comes from where it grows wild in areas where sheep graze? My French dictionary says 'mache' is of unknown origin.

    Here in France Kokopelli sell seeds for a variety of mache called Verte de cambrais - I don't know whether they will send to the US ...

  5. Hi Muddy Boot Dreams, thanks for the lead on West Coast Seeds, they have a really nice selection of seeds. They have one of the few varieties of wild arugula that I've not tried so I'm tempted to place an order. The Vit cornsalad is a locusta type (not golden). I've got a potful of it in the garden now and posted a photo above for comparison to the golden corn salad.

  6. Daphne, I don't think the golden corn salad would be hardy enough to over winter for you. It should do fine as a spring/early summer salad green though. I'm happy to send you some seeds if you want to experiment!

  7. Chandramouli, do see if you can find some seeds, I would be interested to see how it grows in your climate.

  8. Hi Chaiselongue, thanks for the link to Kokopelli. My command of the French language is really weak, ok, almost non-existent, but I did manage to navigate around the site a bit. Lot's of interesting stuff there! I couldn't figure out if they send to the US though. And, so far as I could tell, the mache varieties are probably all locusta types. I know for sure the Verte de cambrais is a locusta (I've grown it!).

  9. Hi again Michelle - I've just remembered there's an English-language kokopelli website - UK based I think, but probably would send seeds to US:

  10. Michelle, I certainly don't mind experimenting, but give it to someone else. I really only want to try mache to over winter.

  11. Hey, thanks so much for answering my little question with such an informative post! I would *love* to try growing this, if you have a few spare seeds. I wonder if it would be okay in Seattle? Maybe it wouldn't overwinter... hm. I like mache (man, I don't know how to make that french accent hat thingy, sorry) but a nuttier, milder, goldener version sounds really spiffy. :)

  12. Karen, I would *love* to share some seeds with you. I think it's possible that the golden cornsalad will over winter for you, doesn't hurt to experiment. It will definitely do fine as a spring sown crop. You could grow some now, collect some seeds and try again with a fall planting. I'll send you an email to arrange sending you some seeds.

  13. I used to travel to germany quite frequently and found mache to be THE green used in most salads in the country (i had a interestingly difficult time finding romaine, however). For those of you interested in buying seeds, I just purchased several packets at my Target (of all places). It it sold by a Burpee's "FordHook Collection" and in the weeny garden area of my local (New Jersey) store. I was thrilled to find it and can't wait to stick it in the dirt.


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