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Latuca sativa


A crisp, juicy lettuce salad on the side of a plate can complete a meal. That watery crunch can add texture or give a nice clean flavour to a complex dish. It’s also an easy way to add greens to a dish if you don’t feel like preparing or cooking vegetables!

There are an almost unbelievable number of varieties of lettuce. It’s easy to grow all year with enough sunshine, but the types you’re most likely to see in the supermarket are the much-maligned (many would argue unfairly) iceberg lettuce and the hydroponically grown ‘fancy lettuce’, though you might find cos lettuce, also known as Romaine, at specialist vege shops or at farmers’ markets.

Not all lettuces are created equal in terms of nutrition. Generally speaking, however, lettuce leaves are a great source of fibre, while being low in starch and calories. You’ll also get a decent amount of vitamin B6 and iron, as well as other minerals such as potassium, and vitamins A, C and K.

Choose lettuces that look fresh and crisp, without wilted leaves, and which feel firm underneath all the outer leaves. If you’re buying unpackaged lettuce, it’s a good idea not to strip off the tough outer leaves until you get it home to avoid damaging the more tender ones underneath. Store your lettuce in the vegetable crisper of your fridge for up to a week.



Lettuce has been a part of humans’ diets for at least 4500 years. It originates from the Mediterranean, with the ancient Greeks using it to promote sleep; all lettuce contains a mild opiate-like substance that can make people sleepy. The Romans favoured it for its nutritional benefits, with one emperor erecting a statue in its honour. Images of lettuce have also been found in Egyptian tomb paintings.


The most common use for lettuce is in salads, and you can eat it with practically any meal. For a very simple side salad, just tear lettuce leaves and put them in a bowl with chopped cucumber, a little salt and pepper, white wine vinegar and olive oil. Toss together. For extra interest, add chopped herbs such as basil or mint.

Lettuce can also be cooked; try braising cos lettuce by quickly sautéing it in oil with a vegetable such as peas. Take it off the heat and let it sit for five minutes. Or you can add it to soups, such as minestrone, or to a stir fry at the end of cooking.


The name ‘iceberg lettuce’ comes from America. At the time more commonly known as ‘crisphead’ lettuces, they were grown in California and shipped across the country by rail. To preserve them, they were packed on ice, and when they arrived people would shout, ‘the icebergs are coming!’. The phrase was also used in marketing material by the growing and shipping company.

If you’re new to gardening, lettuce is an easy crop to grow. It will even grow happily in pots year-round if you choose the right variety; just keep them in some shade and keep them watered in hot or dry weather to prevent the leaves from becoming bitter.

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