Image by Kathy Maister
By Bonnie L. Grant
Mesclun greens are valued for their color, variety, nutrient packed punch and mix of flavors. Salad Mesclun is a mix comprised of the young, tender new leaves of several greens species. Often called “spring mix” these leaves are rich in vitamins and their color and form add interest to a boring salad. The salad mix is an essential culinary ingredient for the keen home chef. Growing mesclun in the garden affords a healthful, convenient and cost saving way to enjoy these greens.
What Is Mesclun?
Mesclun greens traditionally contain the small, young leaves of species such as endive, arugula, chervil and leafy lettuces like baby red leaf. Today the notion of salad mixes has expanded to include many other varieties of greens and herbs. A mesclun mix may include such things as spinach, chard, frisee, mustard and dandelion greens, mizuna, mache and radicchio among others. The huge variety in greens makes for a very interesting and wide palate pleaser.
The name “mesclun” comes from the word “mescal” from the Provencal or Southern France dialects. The word means “to mix” or “mixture”. Mesclun mix is harvested when the baby greens are only three to four weeks old, small, soft and tender. Older mesclun greens are used braised as a hot vegetable. Mesclun mixes may contain five to seven different varieties of greens and come with different flavor profiles such as spicy or bitter.
Mesclun can be purchased as a seed mix or you can get the different varieties of greens that you prefer and make your own mix. Mesclun mix is harvested young so it doesn’t need a lot of space and even does well in containers. Sow succession crops every 2 weeks in spring or summer.
These greens grow best in cooler temperatures and tend to bolt when summer heat amps up. Sprinkle the seeds and cover lightly with a scattering of soil. After germination thin the seedlings to a spacing of 1 inch between each plant. Use the sprouts in salads so you aren’t wasting the seeds.
Harvesting Salad Mesclun
Salad mesclun is harvested with the “cut and come again” method. Cut the leaves you need for each meal and leave the rest. Harvest greens that are 4 to 6inches long and snip them off 1 inch above the soil line. In about a month the plant will be ready to harvest again. Some of the greens in meslun mix come back more thickly such as the baby lettuces.
Make Your Own Mesclun Mix
The wide variety of greens and species for salads means it is up to you to decide what is mesclun. In addition to the plants already mentioned you can mix in purslane, cress, Asian greens, red kale and chicory. Plant them with leafy herbs to harvest at the same time such as cilantro, parsley and basil. The combinations and colors will make salad one of your favorite meals