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Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a temperate annual or biennial plant of the daisy family Asteraceae, and is related to sunflowers. It is most often grown as a leaf vegetable. In many countries, it is typically eaten cold, raw, in salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, tacos, and in many other dishes. In some places, including China, lettuce is typically eaten cooked and use of the stem is as important as use of the leaf. Both the English name and the Latin name of the genus are ultimately derived from lac, the Latin word for “milk”, referring to the plant’s milky juice. Mild in flavor, it has been described over the centuries as a cooling counterbalance to other ingredients in a salad.

Lettuce is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera. In other words, lettuce is butterfly food.  It is also well known as “rabbit food”.  Deer like it too.  In fact, it's a very popular vegetable!  But the Yazidi of northern Iraq consider eating lettuce taboo.

There are hundreds of lettuce varieties grown throughout the world and  four general lettuce classifications, most of which comprise many varieties: Butterhead, Crisphead, Leaf and Romaine.  All lettuce is low calorie and most of it is rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Keep in mind that the darker green leaves contain the most nutrients. Romaine lettuce has six times as much vitamin C and eight times as much vitamin A as iceberg lettuce. The greener leaves on the outside of lettuce contain more nutrients than the inner leaves. Try to save as much as possible.

The lettuce that we see today, actually started out as a weed around the Mediterranean basin. Served in dishes for more than 4500 years, lettuce has certainly made its mark in history with tomb painting in Egypt.  The earliest depiction of lettuce is in the carvings at the temple of Senusret I at Karnak, where he offers milk to the god Min, to whom the lettuce was sacred. Lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac food in Ancient Egypt.

The ancient Greeks believed that lettuce induced sleep, so they served it at the end of the meal. The Romans continued the custom. However, the dictatorial Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) served it at the beginning of his feasts, so he could torture his guests by forcing them to stay awake in the presence of the Emperor. It is rumored that Christopher Columbus introduced lettuce to the New World, where Thomas Jefferson later had 19 varieties growing in his garden at Monticello.


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