San Francisco Native Plants Spring Salad

So this week, I decided to make a salad only using plants native to San Francisco. And this is what it looks like:

In a bowl, there is a pile of dark green leaves with three, large circular leaves on the outside, covering half of the salad.  The large circular leaves each have a flower stem in the center, with tiny white flowers at the top.  Between the large circular leaves are lines formed by small strawberries

The ingredients are:

– Quailbush (Atriplex breweri)
– Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
– Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
– Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii, AKA Satureja douglasii, Micromeria douglasii)

All of these plants are native to San Francisco. If you were in what is now San Francisco in the spring of 1000 AD, you would have been able to have found all of these plants growing. I’ve heard that strawberries were particularly common in what is now the Outer Richmond.

RECIPE:

1. First, I got an entire bag full of quailbush leaves. Then I boiled them for about 1-2 minutes (quailbush is edible raw, but I prefer lightly cooked) and then I put them into cold water to cool them quickly, After that, I squeezed water out from the leaves.

2. I took the leaves from an entire bunch of miner’s lettuce, washed them, and mixed them with the cooked quailbush leaves. I set aside three particularly large leaves for decoration.

A bunch of Miner's lettuce

A bunch of Miner’s lettuce

3. I took two sprigs of yerba buena, stripped off the leaves, and mixed with the salad. Yerba buena is often compared to mint, and functions as an herb adding flavor to the salad.

4. I put on the three decorative miner’s lettuce leaves, and put the woodland strawberries on top.

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HOW MAKING A NATIVE PLANT SALAD IS DIFFERENT

None of these ingredients are available in supermarkets, though I occasionally see miner’s lettuce in farmer’s markets. Therefore, I can’t just go to the store and buy some. I had to harvest all of these ingredients myself. All of these plants grow in my backyard, but when I made the salad, I could only harvest the yerba buena in my yard, so I had to harvest the other ingredients elsewhere.

This is a ‘spring’ salad because this is the only time of year you can use all of these ingredients. Sure, it’s trendy to eat ‘foods in season’, but when dealing with ingredients which aren’t for sale using plants in season is your only choice. Quailbush and yerba buena are evergreen, and thus can be eaten at any time of year, but miner’s lettuce is only in season for a few months, and woodland strawberry is also only in season for a few months, and the overlap between the two seasons is not long.

Also, you are limited by whether you can actually find the plants (or get them to grow in a garden). This is particularly a problem for woodland strawberry – I am very lucky to know of a very productive strawberry patch which everybody else ignores.

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HOW I REALLY EAT

This salad is a stunt, just to prove I could make a salad just with plants native to San Francisco.

I like quailbush, and that’s one reason why it’s a main ingredient.

Some people really like miner’s lettuce. I don’t. I think it’s one of the blandest vegetables ever, and I do not care for the texture. I only put it in the salad because it is one of the easiest ingredients for a ‘native plant’ salad. If I weren’t pulling off a stunt, I’d leave it out.

I do like woodland strawberries, and I did like them mixed with the salad. However, I will probably just eat them separately in the future.

I did like the yerba buena in the salad. Perhaps I should put yerba buena in my salads more often.

And finally, I think most salads are improved by adding vinegar, and even though I tried to eat this salad without vinegar, I eventually lost my resolve and added a bit of vinegar anyway.

Sometime, I’d like to fix a ‘San Francisco forager’s salad’ – a salad made of non-native plants which often grow wild in San Francisco…

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