Early Spring Volunteer Salad

Perfect salad-size mache

It’s early Spring and times are changing quickly. Although not quite officially Spring yet, the weeds are greening up in the garden. That means that we get fresh salad again! I just planted some flats of lettuce starts, but no need to wait for them if you can grow the right weeds. My favorite for this time of year is Mache, Rapunzel, Lamb’s Lettuce or Corn Salad.  Whichever of its many names you wish to call it, this green is happy to grow as a winter weed in the garden.  I never plant it on purpose anymore, but I do make sure that some of the volunteer plants will grow to maturity and go to seed again to provide for the next season’s weeds.  You will always have weeds — better those you want to eat!

Salad volunteers

Between rain showers today, I plucked a few of the nicest rosettes for a salad, weeding up the chickweed and dandelions to provide a little more space for the growing Rapunzel.

salad The key to eating this delicious green is to pick the whole plant; don’t bother separating the leaves.  There is no bitter in this green, just a touch of perfume.  It is great with a light lemon salad dressing.

But don’t stop with the corn salad.  Look around for some of the other classic early spring volunteers like arugula (rocket),  and lettuce seedlings.   Arugula also responds well to scattering of seed pods from plants gone to seed the summer before.  You can go to the effort to actually save the seed and replant in the normal manner, but with these winter weeds it is better to just help nature along and improve the odds of more random plants by making sure some seed finds a place to grow over the winter.  Parsley and cilantro can also respond well to this type of treatment.   When the plants finally go to seed, you can save a few seeds in an envelope in case nature doesn’t do what you want, but the best thing to do is to just toss the seeds into the garden to start the new weeds.  When the corn and beans need weeding, you will find a few friends to nibble or nurture depending on your whim and in the spring your salad will be there for the picking.


  1. Which brings up the age old question, what exactly is a weed? I ordered some mache seeds this year and will plant them in the fall, something to add to the fall-planted spinach. It’s probably a longer winter here in the midwest, but this year I’ve been picking some spinach throughout the winter.

    1. Hi Mike, Some plants just grow like weeds, and mache is one of them. It acts very much like my other winter garden weeds – e.g. chickweed (which is also edible). Every year I see more of it and have to do less to promote its existance in the garden. I would be curious to know how it fared with your hard winters!

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