Harvest corn salad by pinching off individual leaves and the plants will keep producing more.
Corn salad is a small, weedy-looking vegetable that grows in a basal rosette of round to spoon-shaped leaves up to 6 in (15.2 cm) long. The whole rosette is never more than 1 ft (0.3 m) across. The leaves are tender, smooth, and slightly succulent. With the onset of warm weather, corn salad sends up a branched stalk about 1 ft (0.3 m) tall with smaller stem leaves and topped with rounded clusters of tiny silver-blue flowers.
The cultivar, 'Grosse Graine', is a larger plant with larger seeds; 'Coguille de Louviers' has spoon-shaped leaves and an excellent flavor; 'Verte de Cambrai', the most common cultivar in France and Germany, is very cold tolerant but takes longer to reach full size; 'Verte d' Etampes' has savoyed leaves; 'Broad Leaved' is more heat tolerant and the most common variety in the US.
Wild corn salad is native to Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. It is a common weed in waste places and cultivated ground (especially corn fields!) in much of Europe and Asia. In North America, corn salad has escaped cultivation and become naturalized from Maine, south to Virginia and Arkansas. On the European continent, improved cultivars are widely grown as cool season salad plants. A similar, slightly larger species that is more heat tolerant and has a slightly bitter flavor, V. eriocarpa, is cultivated in Italy.
Corn salad is a cool weather crop. In northern Florida, we plant corn salad in November and harvest individual leaves as we need them from December through March. The biggest problem with this little nondescript plant is the tendency to lose it amongst invading weeds. When the flower stalks start developing, harvest all you can as the plants will soon deteriorate.
Light: Full sun or partial shade. Moisture: Water when soil becomes dry. Hardiness: Corn salad is a cool season annual that quickly runs to seed when air temperatures go above 80ºF (26.7ºC). Corn salad can tolerate frost and freezing temperatures and can be overwintered to USDA zone 5. Mulch with straw so you can find the plants under the snow! Propagation: Corn salad is grown from seed, sown directly in the garden, 2-4 weeks before the last frost in spring, or about the time of the first frost in fall. Seeds germinate poorly if at all in warm weather.
This row of corn salad in Steve's winter vegetable garden (Zone 8) is ready for the kitchen.
Corn salad has a delicate, sweet, nutlike flavor and a juicy texture that seems to melt in the mouth. In tossed salads, corn salad complements stronger flavored greens like endive, chicory, cress, arugula and some of the more bitter lettuces. The tender leaves are delicious with crisp salad veggies like bell peppers, carrots and radishes. The cup-shaped leaves of many of the cultivars catch the salad dressing. Corn salad is a popular tossed salad ingredient in Europe, and becoming popular in trendy North American big city restaurants. Use corn salad in potato salads and omelets, too.
Corn salad is one of the highlights of the winter vegetable garden. Although it is a pest in many places, corn salad is coveted by fine chefs, and brings a premium when you can find it at the super market.