Monday, June 25, 2012

Top 100: Prostrate Herbs (Miner's Lettuce)

This is the second of a series of posts that will cover the "Top 100" forest garden plants taken from volume 1 of the Edible Forest Gardens books. We started with the fungi and are now up to the prostrate herbs. There are a lot of useful ones so this is only the start of the list.


Miner's Lettuce - Montia perfoliata
Hardiness zone 4, full sun to part shade, clumping, self-seeds, 6-12 in. x 6-12 in., edible leaves, ground cover (image above)

Siberian Miner's Lettuce - Montia siberica
Hardiness zone 4, full sun to part shade, clumping, self-seeds, 8-12 in. x 8-12 in., edible leaves, ground cover

Greg Tilford, in his excellent Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, says, "Of all edible [wild] plants, miner's lettuce stands out as one of the most palatable . . . the leaves and stems of this group of plants taste almost identical to lettuce . . . Miner's lettuce stays tender and sweet throughout its growth cycle." In addition to its delectable status, miner's lettuce makes a fine ground cover in moist soils with partial to very dense shade. Both species listed here are native to western North America. Miner's lettuce is an annual or short-lived perennial that self-sows to form a dense carpet. This species is cultivated commercially as a salad green with a truly delicious flavor. It tolerates somewhat dry soils, unlike Siberian miner's lettuce, a clumping perennial that spreads freely by seed. Its leaves taste good, except when the plant is flowering.

Foamflower - Tiarella cordifolia
Hardiness zone 3, part to full shade, running, 6-12 in. x indefinitely spreading, ground cover, specialist nectary

This beautiful shade-loving plant is one of our best native ground covers. It forms attractive clumps and drifts, spreading indefinitely. Foamflower is a specialist nectary, attracting beneficial insects in spring. You can find foamflower in rich woods throughout our region.

White Clover - Trifolium repens
Hardiness zone 4, full sun to part shade, running, 4-10 in. x indefinitely spreading, fixes nitrogen, ground cover, edible leaves

This tireless workhorse deserves a place in virtually every forest garden. It is a fine candidate for sunny pathways, as it will tolerate substantial foot traffic. It is (somewhat) edible, and it fixes nitrogen like a champ. The stems creep and root as they go, forming mats. White clover is well suited as a ground-covering polyculture companion to accompany crop shrubs or larger herbs. It is a good generalist nectary and a preferred cover and egg-laying site for many beneficial insects. Unlike many forest garden species, white clover is widely available. You can easily start it from seed right in the ground where you want it. Inoculate to ensure nitrogen fixation.


Canada Violet - Viola canadensis
Hardiness zone 4, full sun to part shade, running, 6-16 in. x indefinitely spreading, edible leaves and flowers

Labrador Violet - Viola labradorica
Hardiness zone 3, full sun to part shade, evergreen running, 4 in. x indefinitely spreading, edible leaves and flowers

Sweet Violet - Viola odorata
Hardiness zone 4, full sun to part shade, evergreen running, 6-8 in. x indefinitely spreading, edible leaves and flowers

These attractive little flowers are excellent under-story species for forest gardens. All have edible leaves and flowers, but let us warn you, some taste much better than others do. As a rule, yellow-flowering types have more bitterness. Nonetheless, good-tasting violets exist for almost any site condition you may have. We have listed only a few; learn your own native species! In addition to the runners profiled here, there are also many nice clumping types. Labrador violet, from chilly northern New England and Canada, makes an excellent ground cover: it is semievergreen, dense, and matlike. Unfortunately, the somewhat woolly leaves are not particularly palatable. Sweet violet makes a good, vigorous, evergreen ground cover. The leaves are by far the sweetest of any violet we have tried. It functions best in areas free of scorching hot summers. Canada violet is a fine native with good-flavored leaves and flowers.

Barren Strawberry - Waldsteinia fragarioides
Hardiness zone 4-7, full sun to part shade, evergreen running, 4-8 in. x indefinitely spreading, ground cover

Barren strawberry is another fantastic native ground cover. It spreads rapidly and forms a dense carpet, and it is one of the best evergreen ground covers for full sun. The plants closely resemble strawberries, to which they are closely related, but their small, green fruit is not edible.

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