March: Salad Leaves
* Salad leaves is an umbrella term for vegetables that are picked as young leaves and either eaten raw or quickly steamed or stir-fried. By choosing different varieties, and sowing every few weeks, you can have fresh salad leaves all year round.
* Salad leaves are ideal for growing in containers. You could use conventional tubs or window boxes, but why not try a bit of imaginative recycling – all you need is enough depth for an 8-10cm layer of compost, and some drainage holes in the bottom.
* In the past, the young leaves of wild flowers were picked in spring as salad leaves – they also provided vitamin C to help ward off scurvy. These included wild garlic, hedge mustard, scurvy grass and watercress. Miner’s lettuce, or winter purslane, served a similar function in the Californian gold rush.
* In the Northeast, spring growth of bistort and nettles was stewed with onion and oatmeal to make dock pudding, giving a healthy boost of vitamins and minerals after a winter with little fresh food. There is still a dock pudding competition every year in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire.
* 18th century gardener and polymath John Evelyn wrote a famous book on salads ‘Acetaria: a discourse of sallets’. His idea of a salad was, essentially, any vegetable that could be eaten with a salad dressing and included many wild plants as well as vegetables and herbs. He compiled an interesting table showing how gardeners could produce salad leaves year round. (Click here for a facsimile of the book.)
* More recently, gardeners have extended their repertoire of salad leaves by including many vegetables from other countries, as reflected in their names: French endive and escarole; Italian brocoletto, cavolo nero and raddichio; Chinese hon tsai tai, tatsoi and wong bok; and Japanese komatsuma, mibuna and mizuna. You can find all of these now in seed catalogues.
* Over 50 types of salad leaves are grown commercially in Britain. For more about salad leaves, including recipes, pictures and an interactive quiz, visit the websites of the British Leafy Salads Association (click here).