When it comes to lettuce, there are five distinct types: leaf, romaine, crisphead, butterhead and stem. It is most commonly used in salads, but is also found in soups, sandwiches and wraps. We can thank the ancient Egyptians for turning lettuce from a weed into a food plant.

Leafy, green and packed with nutrients, lettuce incorporated into a balanced diet provides many benefits.

The Litchfield City Council declared the 2019 One Vegetable, One Community vegetable of the year as lettuce. Each year the committee for One Vegetable, One Community selects a vegetable to promote for community members to learn to grow and eat. Pam Bagley, a health educator for Meeker County Public Health, said that the team considers several factors for choosing the vegetable of the year.

“We look at what vegetable might provide an ease of growing, and lettuce can be planted fairly easily,” Bagley said. “We also take into consideration the growing season. You can plant lettuce in the spring or fall.”

Lettuce provides many benefits, although, it’s not as nutrient-rich as its other leafy counterparts. The vegetable contains vitamins A, B and C in some varieties. The vegetable, composed of 95 percent water, provides a crisp, refreshing crunch. However, people previously did not view lettuce as the health icon it is to day.

History of lettuce

In the Mediterranean basin nearly 5,000 years ago, lettuce grew as a pesky garden weed. Ancient Egyptians first cultivated the plant in 2700 B.C., the earliest record of humans growing lettuce depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics, for the oils produced by its seeds. Egyptians used the seed for its medicinal properties and for mummification practices.

The plant in its early days offered little to no appetizing affect but was prized for another reason. They began incorporating the plant into dishes as a tribute to the Egyptian fertility god, Min, for its supposed effect as an aphrodisiac, according to National Geographic. The Greeks learned from the Egyptians how to plant lettuce, which they passed on to the Romans. The plant also produced a “milky” substance — like latex — that was used for other purposes by the Romans.

“The latex also contained terpene-based alcohols potent enough to make people sleepy, which was why by the Roman era, it was served at the end of feasts as a crunchy version of the doze-inducing nightcap,” National Geographic reported. “Later, as less-sleepy cultivars became available, it was shifted to the beginning of the banquet, as an appetite stimulant.”

By the time the Romans adapted lettuce into a better-tasting vegetable, it spread throughout Western Europe, Britain and China. Italians cultivated darker-leaved romaine lettuces in the Middle Ages, and eventually, Christopher Columbus carried lettuce to the Americas.

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