A member of the Portulacaceae, or portulaca family, and a cousin to other well-known wild edibles such as purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and miner’s lettuce (Montia perfoliata), spring beauty is one of about 15 species in the Claytonia genus. The genus is distributed throughout North America and Australasia and has long been a source of good snacking. Both the Iroquois and Algonquin dined on the boiled or roasted tubers of Claytonia virginica.
A perennial herb, spring beauty usually grows about six inches tall and eight inches wide. It sports grasslike, succulent, dark green leaves. In early spring, dense racemes of star-shaped, pink-tinged white flowers appear and last for about a month. When spring beauties blossom in large drifts across the landscape, the effect is stunning.
The tubers are found about two to three inches under the soil and measure from a half inch to two inches in diameter. In his classic culinary field guide, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Euell Gibbons wrote a charming chapter on these wild edible treats. He remarked that the “spuds” don’t really taste like potatoes at all but rather are sweeter in flavor, like boiled chestnuts, though with a softer, smoother texture.
However, even back in 1970, Gibbons sounded a note of caution and restraint. He warned against overharvesting the tubers in the wild and diminishing the plants’ flowering display. “The tubers are good food for the body,” he wrote, “but after a long winter, the pale-rose flowers in early spring are food for the soul.”