Botanical: Valerianella olitoria (MOENCH)
---Synonyms---Lamb's Lettuce. Valerian locusta (Linn.). White Pot Herb. Lactuca agnina.
Family: N.O. Caryophylleae
(French) Loblollie. Mâche. Doucette. Salade de Chanoine. Salade de Prêtre.
Closely allied to the Valerians are the members of the genus Valerianella (the name signifying 'little Valerian'), the chief representative of which, V. olitoria (Moench), the Lamb's Lettuce or Corn Salad, was named by Linnaeus, Valeriana Locusta. At one time the plant was classed with the lettuces and called Lactuca agnina, either, as old writers tell us, from appearing about the lambing season, or because it is a favourite food of lambs. The young leaves in spring and autumn are eaten as a salad and are excellent.
This little plant is a common weed in waste ground and cultivated land especially corn fields, having been long cultivated in gardens and at present found in an apparently wild state. Gerard says: 'We know the Lamb's Lettuce as Loblollie; and it serves in winter as a salad herb among others none of the worst.' He tells us that the Dutch called it 'White Pot Herb' (probably in distinction from the 'Black Pot Herb' (Alexander's Smyrnium olusatrum), and that foreigners using it while in England led to its cultivation in our gardens. It is now not much grown here, and is much more known on the Continent, and has long been a favourite salad plant in France under the name of Mâche, Doucette and Salade de Chanoine, and also as Salade de Prêtre, from its being generally eaten in Lent.
---Description---It is now common and generally distributed throughout Great Britain, a small, annual, bright-green plant, with succulent stems, 6 to 12 inches high, generally forking from the very base, or at least within the lowest quarter of their height. The first leaves, springing from the root, are 1 to 3 inches long, bluntly lance-shaped scarcely-stalked, generally decaying early. The stem leaves are quite stalkless, often stem-clasping. The flowers are minute and are greenish-white in appearance, arranged in close, rounded, terminal heads, surrounded by narrow bracts, the tiny corolla is pale lilac, but so small that the heads of flowers do not give the appearance of any colour.
---Cultivation---When cultivated in gardens, Lamb's Lettuce may be sown in rows all through the autumn, winter and early spring, so as to produce a constant succession of crops. A small portion of garden earth sown with the seeds in August, will supply an excellent portion of the salad throughout the winter. The younger the leaves, the better they taste in salad.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---This herb was in request by country folk in former days as a spring medicine, and a homoeopathic medicinal tincture is made from the fresh root.
Several other species are found in this country, either indigenous or introduced accidentally with the seeds of the plants described, but they are not common. Some botanists assign these species to the genus Fedia, the name of which is of uncertain derivation.