The East London Garden Society

Romaine Lettuce

With  usage and cultivation spanning three civilisations, you wonder how lettuce (Lactuca Sativa) has stood the test of time. A vegetable native to the eastern Mediterranean region and western parts of Asia, romaine lettuce is known for its versatility in many cuisines and is the most nutrient‐rich of all lettuce varieties. The darker colour not only indicates its richness in flavour, but in nutrients, too. It has deep green and long leaves with a crisp texture and distinct taste. It’s one of four popular lettuce varieties, alongside crisp head, butter head and leaf lettuce.

Like most lettuce, when romaine lettuce leaves are broken, a white milky liquid is excreted that is responsible for its slightly bitter flavour. Romaine lettuce is also called Kos, because it was said to have originated from the Greek island of the same name located off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. California is thought to be the country’s Lettuce Capital since Spanish missionaries planted lettuce in the state as early as the 17th century.

An important benefit of romaine lettuce is its ability to improve heart health, because of vitamin C, beta‐carotene, dietary fibre, vitamin B9 or folic acid and potassium. Romaine lettuce is also a good source of vitamin K that plays a big role in bone metabolism by promoting activity in the bone cells and helping to increase bone mass. This vitamin was also shown to assist Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.

Common Uses of Romaine Lettuce ‐ Romaine lettuce is a popular ingredient in salads, sandwiches, wraps and green smoothies, but it has significance in cultural and historical traditions as well.

The Greeks and Romans not only used romaine lettuce as food, but also valued it as medicine because of its therapeutic properties. Meanwhile, the Egyptians used lettuce to decorate tombs, and depictions of this vegetable were found carved in these burial grounds. In medieval Europe, romaine lettuce was heralded for its medicinal properties, as noted in various medieval texts. Unani medicine, a system of healing and health maintenance in South Asia, used romaine lettuce to ease bilious eructation, disrupted blood pressure, appetite loss and insomnia. It was also utilised as a tonic for the intestines and digestive system.

The dried latex from the romaine lettuce was used for inducing sleep and as nasal drops. It has sedative, anti-spasmodic and anodyne properties. It is also a focal point in the Passover Seder, because of the leaves’ bitter flavour. This symbolises the bitterness the Egyptians gave to the Israelites that they enslaved. On a happier note, lettuce is usually served on birthdays, New Year’s Day and other special occasions in China, since it’s said to bring good luck.

Growing Romaine Lettuce ‐ Growing it at home is a good way to ensure you have a steady supply. It is a hardy and cool‐weather crop that grows well during the spring and autumn in most regions. Although lettuce seedlings can tolerate a light frost, this lettuce grows fastest in full sun. Ideally, the soil’s pH level should be between 6.0 and 7.0, and must be humus’rich, moisture’retentive and well’drained with lots of nitrogen.