Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mâche or corn salad, an easy-to-grow spinach substitute

The honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) contains a single edible crop—mâche or corn salad.

When we wrote Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida, we arranged the crops by plant family (not the alphabet) so readers could have a better grasp on how to rotate crops to reduce problems with pests and to even out soil depletion and enrichment. There were not many families with only one crop. Corn salad fell into this category.

Grow corn salad (center row) along with other cool-weather crops. Here it's growing with some black-seeded Simpson lettuce, a reddish lettuce and dill. 

Here the corn salad is growing in a wide row with red-stemmed spinach
and next to some garlic.
Mâche or corn salad (Valerianella spp) is a fast growing cool weather vegetable with a mild spinach taste. A European weed, it often grows in wheat fields and peasants foraged it for their salads. The British sometimes call wheat corn, so it was the salad in the cornfield. There are a couple of different species. It's best to choose those with most heat tolerance.

Since it is basically a weed, it has a high germination rate. In both of these photos, I probably planted it a little too densely, but the quality was not affected.

Harvest sustainably

Harvest by cutting off the top of each plant leaving the base leaves in place.Lovely corn salad centers make a great addition to a salad.
An endless supply...

To harvest this crop, I cut off the center bunch of leaves from each plant. I leave the base leaves in place. I start at the beginning of the row and by the time I reach the end a few weeks later, the beginning of the row is ready to harvest again. You can see what I mean in this photo of the whole row. The yellowish base leaves are left where I've cut off the tops in the middle of the row.

Use like spinach

Use corn salad raw or cooked as an-easy-to-grow spinach substitute. Spinach is a cool weather crop and sometimes doesn't deal well with warm periods during Florida winters.

The taste of corn salad is mild and unlike a real spinach there are no oxalate crystals to deal with. Those crystals can make spinach seem gritty unless you use vinegar or cook it. Also oxalate crystals can cause the formation of kidney stones in some people.

I hope you are enjoying your cool weather crops, but it's time to begin the transition to spring...

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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