Some unenlightened people refer to our friend the lettuce as rabbit food. little do they know... The ancient Egyptians might have had a funny walk but they knew. Oh, did they know. with 20% protein locked inside its succulent leaves, no wonder lettuce was the sacred plant of min, the god of male sexual potency. Pray to your lettuces.
Ah, nicknames. You have to love them. Lettuce has been called, besides rabbit food ‘the perfect weight-loss food’. They might be right since there are very few calories in this plant. Lactuca Sativa is the scientific name for this salad crop. Lac meaning milk in Latin, which alludes to the white substance that oozes from the cut stems.
That milky white substance might have been what triggered the overactive imagination of the ancient Egyptians, who started cultivating lettuce around 2800 years before they say Christ came into our world. The Egyptians started growing it to produce oil from its seeds. And they were so smart that they bred it into a plant with edible leaves.
The milky substance that dripped from its stems when cut means that it came to be considered the sacred plant of the god of reproduction, Min. This god of male sexual potency was represented in many different forms but most often in male human form, shown with an erect penis, which he holds in his left hand. Min was honoured during the coronation rites of the New Kingdom, when the Pharaoh was expected to sow his seed and thus ensure the annual flooding of the Nile.
I can just hear all you guys thinking ‘seeds, Nile, flooding, milky stuff...’ and you are entitled to those thoughts. The ancient Egyptians probably had the same thoughts.
At the beginning of the harvest season, his image was taken out of the temple and brought to the fields in the festival of the departure of Min, when they blessed the harvest and played naked games in his honour. And the most important game, I kid you not, was the climbing of a huge pole. And to finish our detour through ancient Egypt, our friend the lettuce was carried during Min’s festivals and placed near his images. The plant was thought to help the god perform the sexual act untiringly.
Health and the lettuce
And when you consider all the health benefits of lovely green lettuce, they might have been right about that too. But first set some things straight. There are many types of lettuce. Choose Romaine lettuce if you can, rather than iceberg, because Romaine has one of the highest nutritional values in the lettuce family.
Good for losing weight
But in general, all lettuces have certain special health benefits. Lettuce has only 12 calories per one shredded cup. This is why it is so good for weight loss. It contains fibre and cellulose which stop you feeling hungry and fill you up, and the fibre improves your digestion. Fibre also helps to remove bile salts from the body. When the body replaces these salts it breaks down cholesterol, which is why lettuce is also good for your heart.
Help with insomnia
The white fluid that you see when you break or cut lettuce leaves is called lactucarium. It actually has a soporific (relaxing and sleep-inducing) effect similar to opium, but without the strong side effects. Simply eat a few leaves or drink some lettuce juice for a great night’s sleep.
Grow it yourself
Ready, steady, grow! All types of lettuce grow best in cool weather, so plan to add them to your garden in the spring or autumn, in soil that is kept constantly moist.
When to Plant
In spring, sow lettuce in cold frames or tunnels six weeks before the date of the last frost. Start more seeds indoors under lights at about the same time, and set them out when they are three weeks old. Lettuce seeds typically sprout in two to eight days. In autumn, sow all types of lettuce at two-week intervals starting eight weeks before your first autumn frost. One month before your first frost, sow only cold-tolerant Butterheads and Romaines.
How to plant
Prepare your planting bed by loosening the soil to a depth of at least eleven inches. Mix in about an inch or so of good compost or well-rotted manure. Sow the lettuce seeds a quarter of an inch deep and half an inch apart in rows or squares, or simply cast them over the bed.
Indoors, sow lettuce seeds in flats or small containers kept under fluorescent lighting. Harden three-week-old seedlings for at least two or three days before transplanting.
Pest and disease prevention tips
Slugs chew smooth-edged holes in the outer leaves. Collect them with a gloved hand during drizzly weather, or trap them in small pit traps baited with beer. You also can spray cold coffee on slug-infested plants to stop them feeding.
Tips for growing lettuce
As the seedlings grow, thin leaf lettuce to 6 inches apart, thin Romaines to fifteen centimetre and allow eighteen centimetre between heading varieties. After thinning, mulch between plants with grass clippings, chopped leaves or another organic mulch to deter weeds and retain soil moisture.
In late winter, grow lettuce inside a cold frame or plastic tunnel. Seedlings often survive temperatures below 20 degrees when they are protected with sheet plastic or glass. If your garden is small, try miniature lettuce varieties. Never allow the soil to dry out while lettuce is growing. In most soils, you’ll need to water lettuce every other day between rains.
Harvesting and storage
Harvest lettuce in the morning, after the plants have had all night to plump up with water. Wilted lettuce picked on a hot day seldom revives, even when rushed into the refrigerator. Uproot (and eat) the younger plants until you get the spacing you want. Gather individual leaves or use scissors to harvest handfuls of baby lettuce. Rinse the lettuce thoroughly with cool water, shake or spin off excess moisture, and store it in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Lettuce often needs a second cleaning when being prepared for the table. So clean once again and take it to the kitchen.
Eat it yourself: Caesar Salad
Probably the best salad in the world. You’ll need Romaine. And dressing. Enough said.
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 anchovy filets
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cold
- Some olive oil, cold
- A bit of salt
- A dash of black pepper
Place the garlic and anchovies in the mixing cup and mix them until they form a paste. Add the lemon juice and egg yolk and process them until they are well incorporated. While the machine is running, gradually add the oil, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Use immediately on Romaine lettuce, garnished with croutons and Parmesan cheese. Lettuce eat.