Valerianella locusta is a small dicot annual plant of the family Caprifoliaceae that is an edible leaf vegetable with a characteristic nutty flavor, dark green color, and soft texture, popularly served as salad greens. Common names include corn salad, common cornsalad, lamb's lettuce, mâche, fetticus, feldsalat, nut lettuce, field salad, and rapunzel. In restaurants that feature French cooking, it may be called doucette or raiponce, as an alternative to mâche, by which it is best known. In German-speaking Switzerland it is known as Nüsslisalat or Nüssler, terms that have been borrowed by the area's many English-speakers.
Corn salad, also known as mâche or lamb's lettuce, grows in a low rosette with spatulate leaves up to 15.2 cm long. It is a hardy plant that grows to zone 5, and in mild climates it is grown as a winter green. In warm conditions it tends to bolt to seed.
Corn salad grows wild in parts of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. In Europe and Asia it is a common weed in cultivated land and waste spaces. In North America it has escaped cultivation and become naturalized on both the eastern and western seaboards.
Corn salad was originally foraged by European peasants until Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, royal gardener of King Louis XIV, introduced it to the world. It has been eaten in Britain for centuries and appears in John Gerard's Herbal of 1597. It was grown commercially in London from the late 18th or early 19th century and appeared on markets as a winter vegetable, but it only became commercially available there in the 1980s. American president Thomas Jefferson cultivated mâche at his home, Monticello, in Virginia in the early 1800s.
The common name corn salad refers to the fact that it often grows as a weed in wheat fields. (The European term for staple grain is "corn".) The Brothers Grimm's tale Rapunzel may have taken its name from this plant, as the eponymous character is named for the "salad" which her father has come into the sorceress' garden to steal. 'Rapunzel' is one of the German terms for corn salad.
Like other formerly foraged greens, corn salad has many nutrients, including three times as much vitamin C as lettuce, beta-carotene, B6, iron, and potassium. It is best if gathered before flowers appear.
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