(Photo by Tim Reiley)
This plant is one of those things in life that you can go for years
without noticing, and then find it hard to imagine how you could have
missed it. It is hard to hike anywhere around here in the Spring
without coming across it. The trail up to Coyote Peak is thick
with it between late February and May. It appears first in the
sunlit areas, but the best stands are under shade. As the days
get hotter, the leaves turn a deep red color as they dry out.
Once you get to know it, you will begin to notice the first
shoots as early as December, soon after the first heavy rains.
The short days of winter will suddenly be more tolerable
as the sight of those first shoots reassure you that Spring
is on its way.
Lettuce? Yes, you can eat it--raw in salads or boiled like
spinach. Early settlers and Indians collected and ate it.
It is said that California Indians used to place it
by red ant hills to pick up formic acid as a dressing. I
would be worried that the ants would eat it.
I rarely pass the young plants without pulling off a leaf to
nibble on. It tastes a lot like raw spinach to me, not as
delicate as lettuce. It has none of the peppery kick of the
the somewhat similar garden plant (weed?)
nasturtium Tropaeolum majus, which is also in the