Claytonia sibirica

Common name: Siberian miner’s lettuce

Scientific name: Claytonia sibirica

Native American names: anipaswa’kul (Cowlitz), pepe’tcitsep (Quileute), skokx’tca’d (Skagit), tsak’a’xwulqed (Skykomish), sto’ltu xked (Snohomish) [1]

Plant family: Portulacaceae

Description: Siberian miner’s lettuce is a semi succulent annual or short lived perennial.  It is a small leafy plant, 10 – 40 cm tall with small white to pink flowers blooming from April to July.[2,3]  It first grows several to numerous basal leaves which are lance to egg shaped, then sends up stems with opposite leaves which are egg to lance shaped as well.  The flowers are stalked with 2 sepals, and 5 petals.  Each plant produces 1-3 many flowered clusters.[2]

Habitat and Range: Claytonia sibirica can be found along the western coast of North America from Alaska to California.  It is also native to eastern Siberia and has been naturalized to Britain.[2, 3] It commonly grows in moist shady sites such as forests, stream banks, and meadows at low to mid elevations.2 It especially likes sandy acid soils.[3] 

Historical and Contemporary Uses: Claytonia sibirica is edible.  The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and can be used in salads or as a steamed green.  They are mild in flavor with an earthy aftertaste reminiscent of beet root and are high in vitamin C.[3] Claytonia sibirica is often called miner’s lettuce or Indian lettuce.  Both of these names are used for several closely related species, the most commonly known being Claytonia perfoliata.  As the name indicates, these plants were generally reported to have been used by miners during the California gold rush in the mid 1800’s to prevent scurvy.

Claytonia sibirica was also used for a variety of medicinal and personal hygiene functions by many Native American tribes.  One of the most common uses is as a hairwash which was prepared as a cold infusion of the stems.  The Cowlitz, Quileute, Skokomish, and Snohomish all used the plant in this manner.  The Quileute also used the juice from the stems as an eyewash, and an infusion of the plant as a urinary aid.  The Hesquiat used it as an eyewash as well as a poultice for cuts and sores.  The Skagit used an infusion of the plant for sore throats, and the Songish soaked the leaves and applied them to the head to cure headaches.2

Today Siberian miner’s lettuce is most commonly known as an edible green.

 

I knew that this plant was edible as a leafy green, that it was nutritious, and could recognize its first growth as it re-sprouted in the mild, wet falls around here, before beginning to study it.  I don’t remember anyone teaching me about this plant, though someone must have told me about it.  I have told my children about its edibility as we walk through the forests.  I like to think that some plants are with us like a memory that only needs a gentle nudging to come back to life.  Somewhere in our ancestry we have all walked closely with certain plants, and that memory is preserved somehow – in our cells, as an energetic imprint- who knows.  There is great pleasure in awakening to a knowing that is deeper than one life time.  Thank you plants.  Thank you Claytonia sibirica.

                                   -Zan Akerson


[1] Gunther, E. (1945). Ethnobotany of Western Washington; The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

[2] Pojar, J., & MacKinnon, A. (2004). Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast;Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Vancouver: Lone Pine Publishing.

[3] Plants For a Future. Claytonia sibirica – L. Retrieved October 2, 2011,from http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?latinname=Claytonia+sibirica