Some Facts About Salad Leaves
Did you know that lettuce was sacred to Min, the fertility god, in ancient Egypt? This is because it was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Lettuce was first painted on Egyptian tombs as far back as 4500 BC, and first eaten by the ancient Persian kings 2500 years ago. Both the ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks believed lettuce encouraged healthy sleep. Lettuce was introduced to the new world by Christopher Columbus, and from there it made its way into the United States, although the lettuce we see today is not the same as the first kind.
The lettuce we eat today started out as a weed in the Mediterranean region. The first time lettuce was depicted in a painting (apart from on ancient Egyptian tombs of course) was by Leonardo da Vinci, who painted a child standing next to the goddess of fertility, holding a bouquet of lamb’s lettuce. This was 600 years ago. Salad was widely enjoyed by ancient Greek and Roman nobility and the Romans liked it minced and raw. It was served at the end of a meal until the Emperor Dominican took over, and then it was served as an appetizer, at the beginning of the meal.
Iceberg lettuce is one of the most popular iceberg types, renowned for its delicious crunch and pale green color. This lettuce was developed in the United States and then packed with ice, else it would not have survived on the ship until it reached its destination. This is where the name comes from. Iceberg did not arrive in the UK until the mid 1970s and British farmers did not master growing it until 1984, making this a relatively new salad leaf there.
Growing Your Own Lettuce
Lettuce is grown all over the world commercially but you might want to try growing your own. You will need a light, fertile, sandy soil which holds moisture during the warmer months. 6.5 is the preferred pH but you can add lime if you need to. Lettuce likes to be in wet soil at all times so do not let the soil dry out. They also like cool weather, and daytime temperatures of below 75 degrees F are preferred, with nighttime temperatures above 40 degrees F. The plants might develop a bitter taste in dry or hot conditions, so it is best to grown them in spring or fall.
Sow the lettuce in a cold frame or greenhouse, or sow it directly in the garden. It is easy to transplant once it begins to grow rapidly. Lettuce will grow between rows of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or another type of slow-growing plant, allowing more efficient usage of the space in your garden. The other plants will also help to provide much-needed shade for the lettuce during warm weather.
Popular Kinds of Lettuce
Although there are lots of different types of salad leaves, you can break them down into six main types. Romaine, which is also known as Cos, is long and sturdy and has a rib down the center of each leaf. Unlike most other types of lettuce, romaine tolerates the heat well, and you can even stir-fry it. Butterhead is a popular type of lettuce and the leaves have a buttery texture. Buttercrunch, Bibb, Boston, and Tom Thumb are all varieties of butterhead lettuce.
Chinese lettuce tends to have long leaves, and a robust, bitter flavor. It is used in stews and stir-fried dishes, instead of being eaten raw. Iceberg lettuce, which is sometimes known as crisp head, is the mildest type and is well-loved for its unique crunch. Looseleaf is delicate, tender, and fragrant. Lollo rosso and oak leaf are two examples of looseleaf lettuce. Summer Crisp, which is also known as Batavian or Batavia, is crunchy and flavorful. It is like a cross between looseleaf and iceberg.
Iceberg and some other types of lettuce are specially bred to remove the bitter flavor from the leaves. This might improve the flavor but it also removes some of the nutrient content. Darker-colored lettuces and those with a bitter flavor are better for you. All lettuces contain vitamin K and antioxidants, but looseleaf lettuce and romaine contain five to ten times the vitamin A and five or six times the vitamin C of iceberg. Butterhead and romaine are high in folate, and lettuce absorbs and concentrates lithium.
Picture, recipes and/or content upgraded: 01-28-16
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