When Rapunzel’s mother craved rampion, and stole it from the witch nearby, she made quite a mistake. For these tender salad leaves from a plant, also called corn salad, she had to forfeit her poor infant. To the modern reader of this fairy tale, coveting corn salad to the point of that price seems rather ridiculous. The plant, Varianellla locusta, which grows in Europe, Africa, Asia, and now also wild in North America, is certainly not worth your first-born child.
Yet corn salad, which can also be called Rapunzel, after the old fairly tale, remains a yummy salad green, and is terrific for use in winter when it is fully mature and fresh. You can also cook the green as you would spinach, or substitute it for spinach in Greek salads. Unlike some of the other “wild lettuces," field lettuce or corn salad is noted for its mild, not bitter, spicy or peppery taste. The green has inspired other names like lamb’s tongue, since the individual leaves of the plant are roughly the same size and shape of the tongue of a sheep or lamb. Some consider the green to have a distinct nutlike flavor, inspiring the name hazelnut lettuce.
A corn salad “by any other name” would taste just as good. In wild or baby green mixes it often balances out the more peppery small lettuce leaves like arugula. Additionally since the plant is so hardy, it can be grown with relative ease. In the US, rampion may be considered something of a pest or weed since it has proliferated well as a wild plant, and will come back yearly to taunt gardeners who don’t appreciate it.
When specifically cultivated, corn salad grows in low to the ground leaf formations. Larger leaves are nearly flat to the ground, while the middle section of the plant is usually arranged in what is called a rosette pattern. As any chef will tell you, the young leaves in the center of the plant usually taste sweetest and freshest. The large leaves that are about six inches (15.24 cm) in length can still be excellent in soups and stews.
From a nutritional standpoint, you can’t beat corn salad as a low calorie food. A cup (56 grams) has only 12 calories. The question remains as to whether you’ll be able to find it in places like your local grocery store. It tends to be sold in salad mixes, and not alone, for fairly high prices. There’s a certain irony to this given its growth in abundance in the wild.
If you do notice this green growing in driveways, abandoned lots or parks, you might think twice before picking it. Since it is considered a pest, particularly in North America, it is often treated with herbicides, which are definitely not healthy to consume. If you’d like ready access to corn salad, you might try growing your own instead. Seed catalogs usually have the seeds for this lettuce for you, and in mild climates, you might be able to have winter lettuce, as well as fresh field lettuce in the early spring.