Upgrade your winter salads with a mild, succulent, slightly nutty green that can withstand frigid temperatures after most greens die off. Mâche (pronounced “mosh”) is sometimes called lamb’s lettuce or corn salad because it was historically a weedy wild plant in winter corn fields of Europe. This versatile green’s uniquely tangy flavor has garnered gourmet status amongst chefs as its popularity has grown in the United States.
True to its wild, weedy origins, mâche practically grows itself. If you want an easygoing green to enjoy in late fall or throughout the winter, mâche offers ample flavor and nutrient density with very little maintenance. The plant can withstand down to 5°F with proper mulching and modest protection. Let’s dig into everything you need to know about this delicious cold weather annual!
Mâche ‘Valerianella locusta’ Plant Overview
History and Cultivation
Scientifically known as Valerianella locusta, mâche is a salad green that grows wild in grain fields, roadsides, and open meadows. The plant is very cold-hardy and has been cultivated since around the 17th century, initially as a kitchen garden green and later for commercial sale and use by chefs. Today, this once-weedy green is a delicacy in the modern foodie world, with uses in gourmet salads to balance out spicier greens like arugula or intense winter roots like beets.
What is Mâche?
This annual plant thrives in cold weather, outlasting arugula and spinach.
Mâche, or corn salad, is an annual winter leafy green that grows in attractive rosettes with a uniquely mild, refreshing tang and notes of earthy, nutty flavor. It is remarkably cold-hardy and survives long past arugula or spinach in frosty weather.
It got its nickname “corn salad” from its appearance as a winter weed in European corn fields. It is also called lamb’s lettuce because it tends to emerge in pastures and fields. The foliage is equally enticing and nutritious for sheep and cattle as it is for humans.
A Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family member, mâche produces pretty white flowers in spring and remains harvestable even after bolting. The succulent, juicy leaves are a refreshing treat when little else green is still growing during winter. They hold for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator and reliably re-sow themselves in the garden.
Where Does Mâche Originate?
Mâche is a delicate leafy veg from Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia.
Botanically known as Valerianella locusta, mâche is a tender leafy vegetable native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. It is widely cultivated as a cold-weather green in areas with frigid winters. A staple in European kitchen gardens, mâche is popular in German, British, and French cuisine for its faintly nutty, tangy flavor and succulent, refreshing texture.
Wild plants naturally grow in disturbed areas like dormant crop fields, pastures, roadside ditches, and meadows. A similar species, Valerianella umbilicata, is native to the midwestern United States. Cultivated varieties are not far removed from their wild ancestors and practically grow themselves.
This unique old-time European green is easy to grow from seed. Although corn salad is an annual vegetable, it readily propagates if you leave the flower stalks in place.
There are over 60 varieties of modern mâche greens, which are usually separated into two categories: small-seeded and large-seeded.
- Small-seeded varieties are more closely related to the wild types and only grow in cold weather.
- Large-seeded cultivars are more resistant to bolting in warm weather and better suited for southern climates.
We’ll dig more into the best seeds in the “Varieties” section below. Whichever you choose, it’s best to prepare to seed this cold-hardy green in fall so it can grow during the coolest months of your growing zone.
When planting, space seeds 1” apart in rows 4-18” away.
Mâche is predominantly grown from direct seeding. Thanks to its weedy ancestry, the plant easily germinates outdoors in open garden beds with virtually any type of soil as long as it’s moist. Fall planting is the most common, but you can technically plant when the soil temperature is between 40 and 68°F. At soil temperatures greater than 70°F, mâche seeds will go dormant.
If your weather has sufficiently cooled by Labor Day, this sowing is ideal for early fall harvests. In warmer climates, wait until the holidays to get mâche in the ground. The cool thing about this green is its willingness to spring to life while the rest of the garden is going to sleep.
Sow the seeds about 1” apart in rows 4-18” apart. Plant seeds ¼” deep and avoid covering too densely with soil. You can also broadcast them for a dense patch of baby greens. Keeping seeds consistently moist is usually not a problem in areas with autumn rains. However, the seeds germinate slowly and require 10-14 days before they emerge.
Thinning is optional for baby greens. For larger rosettes and “cut-and-come-again” harvests, thin plants to 3” apart once the cotyledons appear.
Succession planting allows for a consistent yield of winter and early spring greens.
If you want a continuous supply of winter and early spring greens, succession planting creates staggered plantings so different plants mature at different times. For example, you may want to sow a late summer succession for enjoyment around Halloween, an early fall mâche seeding in October for harvest in late November, and another round of greens in late winter for enjoyment in early spring.
Generally, mâche lovers direct seed every 2-3 weeks throughout the coldest months. As long as the ground is workable, you can plant this veggie! It does very well in unheated greenhouses and low tunnels where little else can grow during the frigid months.
You are unlikely to find corn salad as a regular nursery transplant. However, you may wish to grow it in cell trays or pots to transplant it into the garden or gift it to your friends.
How to Transplant
The warmth of indoor spaces can impede the growth of these cold-friendly seeds.
Transplanting mâche is uncommon because it is so easy to direct sow. However, it can give you a head start to a very early spring salad harvest. If you still wish to start it in a container, do so in a cool area. The warmth of a home windowsill or greenhouse can inhibit the germination of these cold-loving seeds.
In contrast to most of our vegetable crops, the container soil must remain cool. Use a soil thermometer to ensure it is under 70°F before seeding. If the seeds germinate in warmer soils, they may prematurely bolt in household temperatures. Chilly weather (but not freezing) is key!
Mâche plants are durable enough to withstand transplanting in most conditions. Wait until the seedlings have fully rooted to fill their cell containers with several sets of true leaves, then harden them off outside on a porch or patio to acclimate to the cold nights. When planting, set plants 3-5” apart to grow to large rosettes for continuous harvests.
How to Grow
The cool thing about growing “weedy” plant species is that they don’t need much human help. Mâche has been doing its own thing for centuries and thrives without fertilizer or irrigation. The most important thing these unique greens ask for is consistent moisture, which is usually easy to achieve in northern winters.
Corn salad should be planted in areas with partial to full sun.
Plant corn salad in partial to full sun. In warmer regions, afternoon shade is ideal because heat causes these cool-loving crops to bolt quickly. Northern gardeners likely don’t grow much in winter beds, and mâche will appreciate a full-sun exposure without shade.
These plants don’t demand much water but benefit from consistent moisture.
This plant is not demanding of water, but even moisture is the key to the most successful harvest. These succulent leaves are naturally juicy and high in water content. Amending with compost can help with water retention. Many northern regions receive ample winter rains, so supplemental irrigation is usually unnecessary.
Don’t let the soil dry out or become waterlogged. Overwatering or excessive rainfall can be remedied by amending heavier soils with perlite, vermiculite, sand, or compost.
The plant’s robust nature allows it to flourish in almost any garden bed.
This hardy green tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. Like most veggies, its favorite is loamy, well-drained garden soil, but it isn’t too picky. I’ve seen mâche grow abundantly in the Pacific Northwest’s heavy clay and the loose sand of the Northeast.
True to its weed status, the plant is resilient and produces delicious greens in almost any garden bed. For brighter green leaves, amend generously with compost.
Climate and Temperature
Mâche withstands 5-55°F, but must be protected from heat for optimal growth.
Mâche is an annual plant that thrives in zones 4 through 8; however, gardeners in zones 2-3 can grow it as a fall green or overwintering greenhouse crop. Zones 9 and warmer may have trouble with this plant bolting in the heat.
It prefers to grow at a steady 30-55°F but tolerates as low as a shocking 5°F without protection! If your nights dip below the single digits, mulch mâche with straw or leaf litter to protect its roots.
Hot weather is the real enemy of this chilly green. Only grow mâche during the coolest months and avoid exposure to temperatures over 60-70°F to prevent bolting.
Mâche doesn’t need fertilizer but benefits from rich and loamy soil.
Fertilizer is not necessary for this wild veggie, but a rich, loamy soil can aid in chlorophyll production for more vibrant green leaves.
Gather the entire rosette or pluck individual leaves as needed.
You can harvest the entire rosette of mache any time the leaves reach an edible size. You can also pluck individual leaves like lettuce.
Some growers practice the “cut and come again” technique by using a sharp knife to slice 1-2” above the ground, leaving the basal growing point intact to regenerate new leaves.
Large-seeded types yield robust rosettes, ideal for warm climates.
Due to its longstanding cultivation in diverse cuisines, mâche has been bred to culinary-worthy standards that made the wild plant a bit more domesticated and amenable to salads. The 60+ available varieties are divided into two categories: large-seeded and small-seeded.
Large-seeded varieties grow larger rosettes with narrow, spoon-shaped leaves that look beautiful in salads. These types are more tolerant of warm conditions without bolting or turning bitter, making them nice for warmer regions or spring crops. They can also survive temperatures to around 10°F.
Popular cultivars include:
- ‘Big Seeded Mache’
- ‘Grosse Graine’
Small-seeded types produce (unsurprisingly) smaller plants 2-5” in diameter. Their leaves are darker green and more rounded, like the wild ancestor. Some gardeners complain that small-seeded types are more finicky to harvest and clean for fresh eating, but they may have more flavor.
Small-seeded varieties particularly excel in the coldest climates and are well-adapted to winter growing. They do not tolerate hot weather. The best seeds include:
- ‘Verte de Cambrai’
- ‘Coquille de Louviers’
Pair mâche with arugula, spinach, kale, and leeks for easy bed integration.
Grow this cold-weather green alongside hardy veggies like kale, spinach, arugula, and leeks. It tucks nicely into any bed and is unlikely to compete with neighboring crops. I like to interplant mâche seeds around mid-fall and let them take over once I pull the remaining fall crops.
Pests and Diseases
Insects are far less active during the coldest months while mâche grows. This is yet another reason to love this easygoing, flavorful green!
Late fall or spring plantings may bring aphids, so hose them off promptly.
While unlikely to infest your plants in winter, aphids sometimes sneak in late fall or spring plantings. The best way to deal with them is to spray with a blast of water from a hose to knock them off.
Aphids don’t crawl back onto the plants. In extreme cases, pulling the plants and starting over is best. Spraying with neem or horticultural oil usually isn’t worth the effort since these weedy plants grow back vigorously.
Combat slimy intruders in your mâche garden with a beer-filled trap.
Cold, moist weather isn’t only ideal for corn salad. It also attracts slimy slugs eager to munch on whatever green is left in the garden. The standard slug-deterrent, diatomaceous earth is usually ineffective at this time of year because the microscopic mineral pieces stop working once wet.
Your best bet is to set a beer trap by filling a shallow plastic container with cheap beer. Nestle the container into the soil near the perimeter of your mâche planting. Slugs will fall in and drown, leaving your greens unscathed.
Powdery mildew takes advantage of moist conditions to spread and infect plants.
Moist conditions are also welcoming to fungal issues like powdery mildew. This infection looks like a white flour dusting on your plants’ leaves. The best prevention is increasing the spacing to allow airflow and avoiding overhead irrigation when possible. You may want to grow mâche under a low tunnel in areas with heavy rains to keep it a bit drier.
Fortunately, the disease usually ceases to become an issue once the weather is cold enough. In the meantime, you may want to spray a diluted mix of 3 tablespoons of baking soda to 1 gallon of water. This will disrupt the fungal cell walls, but it is important to avoid overusing baking soda, as it can burn the leaves. Only apply in the evening so the sun doesn’t bake it onto your plants.
Mâche shines in salads, elevates braised dishes, and enhances the flavor of sautés.
Mâche is used for cool-season salads. The fresh greens also taste great when braised or slightly wilted in a saute. The flowers are also edible and have a mild flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Mâche takes 10-14 days to germinate and requires cool soils under 55°F. The plants are typically ready to harvest after 50 days, depending on the desired leaf size.
While mâche can be grown in containers indoors, it’s not typically recommended because this green mostly enjoys cool weather. The warm temperatures of a home could even cause the seed to go dormant (not germinate) or bolt (go to seed) shortly after emergence. It’s best to grow mâche outdoors in fall and winter.
This European green could be akin to arugula without the spice. It is trendy, cold-hardy, and adapted to various winter recipes. The key to success is germinating in cool (not frozen) soils and maintaining consistent moisture. Thankfully, mâche’s weedy ancestry makes it super low-maintenance but unlikely to become invasive.