Sunday, 26 July 2015

Lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta)

Lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta) is a hardy low growing annual plant from the Caprifoliaceae family. It is also known as corn salad, common corn salad, mâche, fetticus, field salad and rapunzel. It grows wild in many areas of the world including the British Isles and Europe.

An image of lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta)
Lamb's Lettuce (Valerianella locusta)

Lamb's lettuce is a very useful winter crop providing green salad leaves throughout the cold winter months. Considered very beneficial to health, it contains a range of vitamins and minerals.

Growing methods

Lamb's lettuce can be easily grown from seed and will provide leaves all year round. Sow seed directly into the ground 1 cm deep in a prepared seed bed. Lightly cover with soil. Seeds can be broadcast or sown in rows. Sow seeds around 15 cm apart for larger individual plants. Alternatively, sow seeds thickly and later thin out the rows. The thinnings can be used in salads.

Seeds take about two weeks to germinate depending on the temperature and around 30 to 60 days from sowing to harvesting. Sow seeds every few weeks from early spring to late summer for a continual supply of plants throughout the year. Leave plants to flower and they will self-seed thus saving the time and effort of growing it. Use scissors to cut off the top growth and leave the roots in the ground to allow the plant to produce a second flush of leaves.

Lamb's lettuce are hardy plants and will survive very cold weather including frosts and snow.

Raw edible parts

It is widely reported that the leaves and flowers are edible raw. However, we have eaten the whole plant at various times with no ill effects. The melt-in-the-mouth leaves are excellent in salads and can be used as a straight substitute for lettuce or spinach. Leaves are mild and have a slight nutty flavour. They are generally best eaten before the plant flowers. Some say the plants become bitter when they flower but we don't find this the case and eat the flowers alongside the leaves. The root is tiny and best left in the ground so the plant can produce more leaves.

The leaves of European corn salad (Valerianella carinata) and Italian corn salad (V. eriocarpa) can be used in a similar way.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata)

The small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata) is a deciduous tree from the Malvaceae or mallow family. Also known as the small leaved European lime, small-leaved linden, linden tree, littleleaf linden, basswood and winter linden. It is one of about thirty different Tilia species that grows throughout the northern temperate regions of the world including Asia, Europe and eastern North America. In the British Isles it is one of the longest lived native trees and is considered an indicator of ancient woodland.

An image of lime (Tilia cordata) leaves
Lime leaves (T. cordata)

Growing methods

Trees can be propagated by layering, grafting, cuttings, suckers or seed. Lime trees sprout very easily from cut and fallen branches. If they touch the ground, they may root and produce vertical shoots. This is known as 'strategy of persistence' and prolongs their life. It is a good tree for coppicing, pollarding or pleaching.

While trees can be propagated by seed, much of the seed produced by trees in the British Isles, particularly in the northern regions, will likely be sterile and those that are viable may take a very long time to germinate. Fresh seed may germinate easier since dried seeds develop a hard coating. It is best to stratify seeds and subject them to cold before sowing.

Bearing beautiful heart shaped leaves, the small-leaved lime grows to around 30 metres high with an 8 metre spread. Small fragrant creamy white flowers, together with a leafy bract or wing, appear in clusters from June to July and the seeds ripen in October. It prefers full sun or partial shade. It will grow in a wide range of soil types but will thrive more in a deep moist fertile soil with an alkaline or neutral pH. Place organic mulch around the base to feed the tree and keep in the moisture. Once established, it requires very little care and attention. It can be planted in urban landscapes and will tolerate difficult conditions including pollution but not salty conditions.

It generally remains a healthy tree and doesn't suffer unduly from pests or diseases. Although may be affected by aphids, caterpillars from various moth species and some fungal diseases.

An illustration of the various parts of the lime tree (Tilia cordata)
Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen

Other uses

Lime flowers have long been used as a folk remedy for many illnesses including relief during the early stages of colds, flu and childhood fevers. Flowers have a calming effect and can be used to aid digestion, insomnia, headaches from high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and muscular weakness of the eyes.

The wood can be used for charcoal, fibre (rope, cloth), firewood, paper, posts, poles, baskets and other crafts. It is one of the softest hardwoods and can be easily carved. The tree will attract beneficial insects and is particularly good for bees due to the abundance of nectar.

Raw edible parts

The young heart shaped leaves of all Tilia species are generally considered edible raw but the small leaved lime is probably the best. Leaves have a good texture and mild slightly sweet flavour. They are excellent in salads and can be used in much the same way as a lettuce or be used to make pesto. Leaves can also be dried and made into a flour. If the tree is coppiced or pollarded it will produce an abundance of branches and young leaves for the table.

The young lime flowers are edible raw and can be made into a fragrant calming tea, often sold as linden tea. A chocolate flavoured paste can be made from the immature fruit and flowers. The sap is also edible raw and has a sweet taste.

As a point of interest Green Dean of Eat The Weeds says of Tilia americana that the young leaves, young shoots, buds and cambium (during spring) are edible raw. He says the sap can be boiled down to a syrup but it is likely this is edible raw too.


Take care if using older flowers to make tea as they may be a narcotic. T. cordata bears no relation to the lime (Citrus aurantifolia) which is a citrus fruit.