Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Lamb's Lettuce

This is one of those plants which, though easily overlooked, merits a closer look. It is currently in flower at the foot of walls around Byfield, and is plentiful opposite the village school gates. It is hardly a spectacular plant but when examined under a hand-lens the flowers have a certain neatness. Otherwise known as Corn Salad the plant has been eaten all over Europe for many centuries under various names; in Germany it is known as 'rapunzel' and may have some association with the fairy tale. Its Latin name is Valerianella locusta. The generic name is easily explained as the plant is a relative of Common Valerian but the specific name 'locusta' leaves me puzzled; 'locusta' can refer to a grasshopper or a lobster - both equally problematic.
Corn Salad Valerienella locusta,
Bell Lane, Byfield 7 May, 2013

The plant is now commercially grown in some quantity but has yet to become popular in Britain. Books by Jamie Oliver or Delia Smith are silent on the matter; perhaps they should include it in a recipe or two. I could offer to gather some for use in a salad at home but I suspect Chris would give the plants a very frosty reception. (During World War Two my father once brought home a couple of dead rooks and put them in the kitchen - they were never seen again!)

Lamb's Lettuce is widespread throughout Britain but scarce in places, and is only patchily distributed in Northamptonshire. It is more common in Byfield than I have seen it anywhere, growing not only in Bell Lane but behaving as a weed in gardens in Boddington Road.  

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