This salad green of the valerian family is native to the Mediterranean region and has been used for thousands of years. It has numerous names including mâche, corn salad, lamb’s lettuce and field salad and has many international advocates. Mâche (pronounced ‘mah-sh’) is its French name where over 50 million pounds are consumed a year and it was originally foraged by peasants until introduced to the world by the royal gardener of King Louis XIV. Corn salad is the name used in the United States, since this green tends to grow wild in many American cornfields. Lamb’s lettuce is the old English name taken from its resemblance to the size and shape of a lamb’s tongue plus the fact that it appears in spring during lambing season and is a favorite of theirs. In Germany, it’s called Feldsalat (literally field salad).
Although most varieties of corn salad grow in rosettes of small dark grey-green leaves with a fingerlike shape and velvety feel, there is also a large-leaf version which stands up better to summer heat. In general, however, it is a cool-weather annual that laughs at even subzero temperatures and springs back even after hard frosts which may actually improve its flavor! Corn salad prefers a fertile, moist yet well-drained soil, but isn’t too fussy about where it’s planted. It matures quickly and seed may be planted in succession in early spring as soon as the ground is workable for early summer harvest, in late summer for fall harvest or in late fall for a spring harvest plus corn salad may be started inside 4-6 weeks before transplanting. When seedlings have three leaves, thin to 4” apart. When the leaves are 1-2 inches long, a few leaves can be harvested from each plant or a whole plant can be simply cut off at ground level. The leaves will keep in the refrigerator for a couple days wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a plastic bag. Do not wash corn salad until just before using and always drain thoroughly.
Corn salad is truly the most tender of all greens with a sweet, slightly nutty taste that tends to melt in your mouth. It may be used alone, in contrast to sharper greens in a salad, cooked like spinach or added to fruit and vegetable dishes. Corn salad makes a nice salad alone with a light vinaigrette which does not overpower it or simply a squeezed lemon added at the last minute to ensure tenderness and flavor. It is also a common ingredient in meslun and as such its subtle flavor is used as a counterpoint to the strong-flavored arugula, cress, mustard and chicory. Corn salad can also be steamed and served as a vegetable or used in soups and poultry stuffing. Its flavor blends well with nuts, apples and beets and combines well with chives and tarragon. Cut into small pieces, corn salad will also garnish and add color to soups, omelets, rice or potato salads.
Corn salad is good for intercropping
among larger vegetables such as broccoli
and also looks great planted with other greens
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.”