Mache (also known as lamb's lettuce, feldsalat in Germany, corn salad and rapunzel) has been cultivated in France since the 17th century. Grown as a winter or early spring green, Mache (Valerianella locusta) is sold in Germany as a whole plant, often with the small main root attached. Mache grows in a loose rosette and is harvested two to three months after planting. Mache is also famously known as Rapunzel, the vitamin-rich food that cost a peasant family their only daughter in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
Mache 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.
Mache was originally foraged by European peasants until the royal gardener of King Louis XIV, de la Quintinie, introduced it to the world. It has also been used as food in Britain for many centuries and appears in John Gerard's Herbal of 1597 but only became commercially available there in the 1980s. It was grown commercially in London from the late 18th/early 19th century and appeared on markets as a winter vegetable.
Mache is expensive in the store because it is labor intensive and does not weigh much. It must be washed carefully because the dirt and sand collects at the base of the leaves. If you do not cut through the short stem, the plants can be dressed and eaten whole, in one bite.
Mache is available for most of the winter in the grocery stores in Germany. Europeans use this plant like lettuce. It is aromatic, often tasting nutty if planted outdoors. It can be dressed with a hot bacon vinaigrette, mustard vinaigrette or used in a mixed greens salad. It is not as popular in North America as it is in Europe.
Field salad has a high level of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron and potassium.
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