Corn Salad – A Plant That Often Grows Wild In The Corn Fields?

Corn salad is a soft salad green with tiny dark green leaves, making your fresh salads even tastier. The name “corn salad” has nothing to do with the corn, except that it grows wild in cornfields. It’s also popularly called mache, fetticus, field salad, nut lettuce, and lamb’s lettuce. The botanical name of the vegetable is Valerianella locusta.

Corn salad is an annual plant that’s among the first to sprout at springtime, making it a refreshing addition to your salad garden. But what the corn salad plant is, where it comes from, and what kind of climate suits its cultivation? There’s a lot more you have yet to find out, so keep reading.

Corn salad belongs to the Caprifoliaceae or honeysuckle family. The family includes over 890 species, including many trees, shrubs, vines, and some herbs. Corn salad is native to southern Europe and grows wild in Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia.

Common NameCorn Salad, Lamb’s Lettuce
Botanical NameValerianella Locusta
Plant TypeAn Annual
Size (Fully Grown)1 To 2 Feet (About 30 To 61 cm) Tall
Sun ExposureFull Sun But Tolerates Partial Shade As Well
Soil TypeLight, Fertile, And Well-draining Soil
Soil pHFrom 6.5 To 7
Flower ColorBluish-white
U.S. Hardiness Zones2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, And 10
Native AreaSouthern Europe

How Many Types Of Corn Salad Are There?

Different cultivars have developed over the ages to suit different climates and various properties. Verte De Cambrai is a self-sower, which means it comes back each year on its own. Ronde Maraîchère is a cold-resistant variety that can be harvested throughout the winters. Here’s a list of the most common corn salad varieties:

  1. Bistro
  2. Trophy
  3. Piedmont
  4. Concha Rubia
  5. Holland Glory
  6. Semilla Gruesa
  7. Verte d’Etampes
  8. Verte De Cambrai
  9. Ronde Maraîchère
  10. Redonda Hortelana
  11. Verde Corazón Lleno
  12. Coquille De Louviers

Where Did Corn Salad Come From?

Corn salad is native to southern Europe. The name lamb’s lettuce is almost as old as corn salad and relates to the lettuce’s resemblance to a lamb’s tongue in its size and shape.

The plant was used for consumption since ancient times by European pheasants. Since the late 1500s, the vegetable was called lamb’s lettuce or corn salad. It has been cultivated in Britain for a long time. John Gerard, a well-known English botanist, included it in his book, Herball, published in 1597.

This weedy plant, which often grew wild in many parts of Europe, did not gain any formal recognition until the late 1600s. During the reign of King Louis XIV, his royal gardener, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, introduced the plant as a royal salad crop to the kitchen garden. As it grew popular by the name mâche in French cuisine, it quickly acquired the reputation of becoming part of fine dining menus.

Thomas Jefferson, the third American president, must be fond of the particular vegetable since he cultivated it in his home in Virginia during the early 1800s. Corn salad’s commercial cultivation did not start in England until the late 1800s, after which it was seen in the farmer’s market as a winter vegetable.

It’s currently a common cultivar in most of Europe, particularly France, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Nantes, a city in France, is the biggest producer of corn salad in Europe. Besides Europe, the plant is also cultivated in North America, northern Africa, and western Asia.

Corn Salad - Even A U.S. President Grew It!
© nblxer – stock.adobe.com

How To Recognize Corn Salad?

You know where the plant comes from and what varieties we can grow. But, the answer to what the corn salad plant isn’t complete without its physical profile. What does a plant look like? Can you recognize it just by looking at it? Let’s find out.

The Plant

Lamb’s lettuce grows in rosettes of leaves close to the ground. Reaching a height of only 12 inches (about 30 cm), it looks just like a bouquet of leaves bundled at the root. The best time to pick the leaves starts from early spring until April, and best of all, it is a cut-and-come-again salad green.

Leaves

Long, spoon-shaped leaves, like a lamb’s tongue and dark green, are a delicacy of the French cuisine. Just like all other salad greens, corn salad is also harvested for its leaves. The tender leaves have a rich, nutty flavor, making them a flavorful addition to fresh salads. You can also cook them and serve them just like spinach.

Harvest only a little bit at a time, once the leaves are at least 3 inches (about 7,5 cm) long. Cut the outer leaves, but take care that you don’t accidentally uproot the entire plant. Why? Because the rosette continues to grow for future harvest.

Flowers

As the weather warms up, corn salad will bolt (go to seed) and produce a long, erect flowering stem, growing out of the rosette of leaves. The stem branches out and produces dense flower clusters at the tips. These tiny bluish-white flowers are as edible as the leaves.

When your harvesting, you can pick the flowers alongside the leaves and use that combination in fresh salads. Flowers are usually consumed raw, as part of salads, or as a garnish on gourmet dishes.

In What Kind Of Growth Conditions Corn Salad Grows Best In?

The fact that it grows wild in many parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia suggests that it’s not a fussy vegetable, and it’s easy to grow in home gardens. Chances are it will thrive in your garden too. But, there are a few things you should know about it before you start growing it.

The Temperature

Although corn salad is a weedy plant and hardy to most climatic conditions, it grows best in temperatures between 45 to 65°F (about 7 to 18°C). The seeds need cool, moist soil and germinate in about 7 – 14 days if the soil temperature is between 50 and 70°F (about 10 – 21°C). If the temperatures are higher than that, it can hinder germination.

You can sow the seeds directly in your garden from early spring onwards, as soon as the temperatures rise above 50°F (about 10°C). You can also plant new seeds throughout the spring for a prolonged harvesting period. In most regions, you can also sow the seeds in early fall for a winter harvest.

The Climate

Because the plant is hardy to zones 2 through 10, there is a good chance that the plant will thrive in your kitchen garden without much effort. But, if you give it the right conditions, you’ll enjoy a flavorsome harvest.

When you sow it in early spring, exposure to the full, bright sun will help keep the soil warm enough for the plants to grow well. But, as the temperatures get warmer, you may want to include row covers for protection from the afternoon sun.

As far as the soil type is concerned, you won’t find it a fussy plant. Though it will grow in most soil types, it appreciates well-draining, fertile soil and, as a result, will display its gratitude by giving you plenty of fresh, green leaves!

Water the plant moderately, preferably during the early morning. It will need more frequent waterings during warmer weather, especially if it’s exposed to full sun.

When it comes to fertilizing, in the best-case scenario, you won’t even need to fertilize it if you’ve already planted it in fertile soil since it has a shorter growing season than most crops.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Corn Salad?

Corn salad is rich in beta-carotene, Vitamin B9, and potassium and contains plenty of other nutrients. In short, it’s a healthy green to add to your salad platter. But is it equally beneficial for everyone? Is there something you need to know while consuming corn salad or growing it in your garden? Here’s all that you need to know!

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Lamb’s lettuce (corn salad) is a healthy plant for pregnant and breastfeeding women, especially since it’s a good source of Vitamin B9. Also, the plant also helps with fetal development. But, like with any other plants, remember only to eat it in moderation!

Children

Lamb’s lettuce is a rich source of nutrients, making it an excellent plant for growing children. But, it’s not suitable to serve it raw before two years of age. If you’re going to do it before this age, cook it thoroughly and serve it with mashed vegetables or pureed soup.

People With Allergies

Lamb lettuce isn’t known to cause any allergies. But, in case of any adverse reactions to the consumption, take advice from a healthcare provider.

People With Diabetes

In short, the plant is an excellent addition to your diet if you have diabetes because it doesn’t raise your blood sugar levels that much, and best of all, it contains many essential nutrients.

Pets

Corn salad isn’t toxic to pets. You can quickly grow it in your garden if you have pets around, and even feed this plant to them, but only in moderation. Overconsumption of this plant can cause an upset tummy or, in a worst-case scenario, diarrhea.

Featured image credit – © ImagESine – stock.adobe.com

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend