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Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a temperate annual or biennial plant of the aster or sunflower family Asteraceae. It is most often grown as a leaf vegetable, but also sometimes for its stem and seeds. Lettuce was first grown by the Egyptians, who turned it from a weed whose seeds were used to make oil into a plant grown for its leaves. It then spread to the Greeks and Romans, who gave it the name "lactuca", from which the modern "lettuce" ultimately derives. By 50 AD, multiple types were described, and it appeared often in medieval writings, including several herbals. The 16th through 18th century saw the development of many varieties in Europe, and by the mid-18th century varieties were being described that can still be found in gardens in the 21st century. Europe and North America originally dominated the market for lettuce, but by the late 20th century the consumption of lettuce had spread throughout the world.

Generally grown as a hardy annual, it is easily cultivated, although it requires relatively low temperatures to prevent it from quickly flowering. It can be plagued with numerous nutrient deficiencies, as well as insect and mammal pests and fungal and bacterial diseases. L. sativa crosses easily within the species and with some other species within the Lactuca genus, and although this trait can be a problem to home gardeners attempting to save seeds, biologists have used it to broaden the gene pool of cultivated lettuce varieties. World production of lettuce and chicory for calendar year 2010 stood at , with over half coming from China.

Lettuce is most often used for salads, although it is also seen in other kinds of food, while one type is grown for its stems which are eaten either raw or cooked. Lettuce is a good source of vitamin A and potassium, as well as minor source for several other vitamins and nutrients. Despite its beneficial properties, lettuce has often been targeted as the cause for bacterial, viral and parasitic outbreaks in humans, including E. coli and Salmonella. In addition to its main use as a leafy green, it has also gathered religious and medicinal significance over centuries of human consumption.


Taxonomy and etymology

L. sativa seeds Lactuca sativa is a member of the Lactuca (lettuce) genus and the Asteraceae (sunflower or aster) family.[1] The species was first described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in the second volume of his Species Plantarum.[2] Synonyms for L. sativa include Lactuca scariola var. sativa,[3] L. scariola var. integrata and L. scariola var. integrifolia.[4] L. scariola is itself a synonym for L. serriola, the common wild or prickly lettuce.[5] L. sativa also has many identified taxonomic groups, subspecies and varieties, which delineate the various cultivar groups of domesticated lettuce.[6] Lettuce is closely related to several Lactuca species from southwest Asia, with the closest relationship being to L. serriola, an aggressive weed found in much of the world.[7]

The Romans called the plant lactuca (milk in Latin), which is now used as the genus name, due to the white substance exuded by cut stems.[8] This word has become the genus name, while sativa (meaning "common") was added to create the species name.[9] The current word "lettuce", originally from Middle English, came from the Old French letues or laitues, which derived from the Roman name.[10] The name for cos lettuce came from the earliest European seeds of the type coming from the Greek island of Cos, a center of lettuce farming in the Byzantine period, while the name romaine came from its use in the Roman papal gardens.[11]


Mature lettuce flower and fruits Its native range spreads between the Mediterranean and Siberia, although it has since been transported to almost all areas of the world. Plants generally have a height and spread of .[12] The leaves are colorful, ranging mainly through the green and red color spectrums, with some variegated varieties.[13] There are also a few varieties with yellow, gold or blue-teal leaves.[14] They have a wide range of shapes and textures, from the dense heads of iceberg lettuce to the notched, scalloped, frilly or ruffly leaves of leaf lettuces.[13] Lettuce plants have a root system that includes a main taproot and smaller secondary roots. Some varieties, especially those found in the US and Western Europe, have long, narrow taproots and a small set of secondary roots. Longer taproots and more extensive secondary systems are found in varieties from Asia.[14]

Depending on the variety and time of year, lettuce generally lives 65 130 days from planting to harvesting. Because lettuce that flowers (called "bolting") becomes bitter and unsaleable, plants grown for consumption are rarely allowed to grow to maturity. Lettuce flowers more quickly in hot temperatures, while freezing temperatures cause slower growth and sometimes damage to outer leaves.[15] Once plants move past the eating stage, they develop flower stalks up to high with small yellow blossoms.[16] Lettuce flowers are composed of multiple florets, each containing a ligulate petal and reproductive system. This system includes fused anthers that form a tube surrounding a bipartite stigma-containing style. As the anthers shed pollen, the style elongates to allow the stigmas, now coated with pollen, to emerge from the tube.[14] The flowers form compressed, obovate (teardrop-shaped) dry fruits that do not open at maturity, measuring 3 to 4 mm long. The fruits have 5 7 ribs on each side and are tipped by two rows of small white hairs. Each fruit contains one seed, which can be white, yellow, gray or brown depending on the variety of lettuce.[3]

The domestication of lettuce over the centuries has resulted in several changes through selective breeding; these include slower bolting, larger seeds, larger leaves and heads, better taste and texture, a lower latex content, and different leaf shapes and colors. Work in several of these areas continues through the present day.[17] Scientific research into the genetic modification of lettuce is ongoing, with over 85 field trials in progress in the European Union and United States to test modifications allowing greater herbicide tolerance, greater resistance to insects and fungi and slower bolting patterns. However, genetically modified lettuce is not currently used in the commercial agriculture setting.[18]


Lettuce developed from a weedy plant found in Egypt, first used for the production of oil from its seeds. This plant was probably selectively bred by the ancient Egyptians into a plant grown for its edible leaves,[19] with evidence of its cultivation appearing as early as 2680 BC.[8] Lettuce was considered a sacred plant of the reproduction god Min, and was carried during his festivals and placed near his images. The plant was thought to help the god "perform the sexual act untiringly."[20] Its use in religious ceremonies resulted in many images being created in tombs and wall paintings. The variety under cultivation by the Egyptians appears to have been about tall and resembled a large version of the modern romaine lettuce. These upright lettuces were developed by the Egyptians and passed to the Greeks, who in turn shared them with the Romans. Circa 50 AD, Roman agriculturalist Columella described several lettuce varieties  some of these may have been ancestors of today's lettuces.[8]

Romaine lettuce, a descendent of some of the earliest cultivated lettuce Lettuce appears in many medieval writings, especially with regards to its use as a medicinal herb. Hildegard of Bingen mentioned it in her writings on medicinal herbs between 1098 and 1179, and many early herbals also describe its uses. In 1586, Joachim Camerarius provided descriptions of the three basic modern lettuces  head lettuce, loose-leaf lettuce and romaine or cos lettuce.[11] Lettuce was first brought to the Americas from Europe by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century.[21][22] Between the late 16th century and the early 18th century, many varieties were developed in Europe, particularly Holland. Books published in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries describe several varieties still found in gardens today.[23]

Lettuce is very easy to grow, and as such has been a significant source of sales for many seed companies. Tracing the history of many varieties is complicated by the practice of many companies, particularly in the United States, of changing the name of a variety from year to year. This was done for several reasons, the most prominent being to boost sales by promoting a "new" variety or to prevent customers from knowing that the variety had been developed by a competing seed company. Documentation from the late 19th century showed there to be somewhere between 65 and 140 distinct varieties of lettuce, depending on the amount of variation allowed between types  a distinct difference from the 1,100 named lettuce varieties on the market at the time. Names also often changed significantly from country to country.[24] Although most lettuce grown today is used as a vegetable, a minor amount is used in the production of tobacco-free cigarettes; however, domestic lettuce's wild relatives produce a leaf that more closely resembles tobacco.[25]


A hardy annual, some varieties can be overwintered even in relatively cold climates under a layer of straw, and older, heirloom varieties are often grown in cold frames.[23] Cutting lettuces are generally planted straight into the garden in thick rows. Heading varieties of lettuces are commonly started in flats, then transplanted to individual spots, usually apart, in the garden after developing several leaves. Lettuce spaced further apart receives more sunlight, which improves color and nutrient quantities in the leaves. Pale to white lettuce, such as the centers in some iceberg lettuce, contain few nutrients.[16]

A transplanted bed of lettuce in a greenhouse Lettuce grows best in full sun in loose, nitrogen-rich soils with a pH of between 6.0 and 6.8. Heat generally prompts lettuce to bolt, with most varieties growing poorly above ; cool temperatures prompt better performance, with being preferred and as low as being tolerated. Plants in hot areas that are provided partial shade during the hottest part of the day will bolt more slowly. Temperatures above will generally result in poor or non-existent germination of lettuce seeds.[26] After harvest, lettuce lasts the longest when kept at and 96 percent humidity. Lettuce quickly degrades when stored with fruit such as apples, pears and bananas that release the ripening agent ethylene gas. The high water content of lettuce (94.9 percent) creates problems when attempting to preserve the plant  it cannot be successfully frozen, canned or dried and must be eaten fresh.[27]

Lettuce varieties will cross with each other, making spacing of between varieties necessary to prevent contamination of varieties when saving seeds. Lettuce will also cross with Lactuca serriola (wild lettuce), with the resulting seeds often producing a plant with tough, bitter leaves. Celtuce, a lettuce variety grown primarily in Asia for its stems, crosses easily with lettuces grown for their leaves.[16] This propensity for crossing, however, has led to breeding programs using closely related species in Lactuca, such as L. serriola, L. saligna, and L. virosa, to broaden the available gene pool. Starting in the 1990s, such programs began to include more distantly related species such as L. tatarica.[28] Seeds keep best when stored in cool conditions, and, unless stored cryogenically, remain viable the longest when stored at ; they are relatively short lived in storage.[3] At room temperature, lettuce seeds remain viable for only a few months. However, when newly harvested lettuce seed is stored cryogenically, this life increases to a half-life of 500 years for vaporized nitrogen and 3,400 years for liquid nitrogen; this advantage is lost if seeds are not frozen promptly after harvesting.[29]


A selection of lettuce cultivars There are several types of lettuce, but three (leaf, head and cos or romaine) are the most common.[26] There are seven main cultivar groups of lettuce, each including many varieties:

  • Leaf  Also known as looseleaf, cutting or bunching lettuce,[30] this type has loosely bunched leaves and is the most widely planted. It is used mainly for salads.[27]
  • Romaine/Cos  Used mainly for salads and sandwiches, this type forms long, upright heads.[27] This is the most often used lettuce in Caesar salads.[21]
  • Crisphead  Better known as the "iceberg" lettuce, the most popular lettuce in the United States, this type is very heat-sensitive and was originally adapted for growth in the northern US. It ships well, but is low in flavor and nutritional content, being composed of even more water than other lettuce types.[27]
  • Butterhead  Also known as Boston or Bibb lettuce,[30] this type is a head lettuce with a loose arrangement of leaves, known for its sweet flavor and tender texture.[27]
  • Summercrisp  Also called Batavian or French Crisp, this lettuce is midway between the crisphead and leaf types. These lettuces tend to be larger, bolt-resistant and well-flavored.[30]
  • Stem  This type is grown for its seedstalk, rather than its leaves, and is used in Asian cooking, primarily Chinese, as well as stewed and creamed dishes.[27]
  • Oilseed  This type is grown for its seeds, which are pressed to extract an oil mainly used for cooking. It has few leaves, bolts quickly and produces seeds around 50 percent larger than other types of lettuce.[31]

The butterhead and crisphead types are sometimes known together as "cabbage" lettuce, because their heads are shorter, flatter, and more cabbage-like than romaine lettuces.[32]

Cultivation problems

A lettuce surrounded by weeds, which have crowded it to the point of bolting Nutrient deficiencies, including a lack of boron, phosphorus, calcium, molybdenum or copper, can cause a variety of plant problems that range from malformed plants to a lack of head growth.[26] Many insects are attracted to lettuce, including cutworms, which cut plants off at the soil line; wireworms and nematodes, which cause yellow, stunted plants; tarnished plant bugs and aphids, which cause yellow, distorted leaves; leafhoppers, which cause stunted growth and pale leaves; thrips, which turn leaves gray-green or silver; leafminers, which create tunnels within the leaves; flea beetles, which cut small holes in leaves and caterpillars, slugs and snails, which cut large holes in leaves. Mammals, including rabbits and groundhogs, also eat the plants.[33] Lettuce contains several defensive compounds, including phenolics, sesquiterpene lactones, flavonol and flavone glycosides, which help to protect it against pests; certain varieties contain more than others, and some selective breeding and genetic modification studies have focused on identifying and producing varieties with larger amounts of these compounds for increased pest resistance.[34]

Viral diseases include big vein, which causes yellow, distorted leaves and mosaic virus, which is spread by aphids and causes stunted plant growth and deformed leaves. Aster yellows are a disease-causing bacteria carried by leafhoppers, which causes deformed leaves. Fungal diseases include powdery mildew and downy mildew, which cause leaves to mold and die and bottom rot, lettuce drop and gray mold, which cause entire plants to rot and collapse.[33] Crowding lettuce tends to attract pests and diseases.[16] Weeds can also be an issue, as cultivated lettuce is generally not competitive with them, especially when directly seeded into the ground. Transplanted lettuce (started in flats and later moved to growing beds) is generally more competitive initially, but can still be crowded later in the season, causing misshapen lettuce and lower yields. Weeds also act as homes for insects and disease and can make harvesting more difficult.[35] Herbicides are often used to control weeds in commercial production. However, this has led to the development of herbicide-resistant weeds, as well as generating environmental and health concerns.[17]


Lettuce is the only member of the Lactuca genus to be grown commercially.[36] The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that world production of lettuce and chicory for calendar year 2010 was , coming primarily from China (53 percent), United States (17 percent) and India (4 percent).[37]

Top ten lettuce and chicory producers  2010
Country Production (tonnes) Source
12,574,500 FAO estimate
3,954,800 official figure
998,600 FAO estimate
843,344 official figure
809,200 official figure
537,800 official figure
402,800 FAO estimate
398,215 official figure
358,096 official figure
340,976 official figure
World 23,622,366 aggregate
Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Division

Western Europe and North America were the original major markets for large-scale lettuce production. By the late 1900s, Asia, South America, Australia and Africa became more substantial markets. Different locations tended to prefer different types of lettuce, with butterhead prevailing in northern Europe and Great Britain, romaine in the Mediterranean and stem lettuce in China and Egypt. By the late 20th century, the preferred types began to change, with crisphead, especially iceberg, lettuce becoming the dominant type in northern Europe and Great Britain and more popular in western Europe. In the United States, no one type predominated until the early 20th century, when crisphead lettuces began gaining popularity. After the 1940s, with the development of iceberg lettuce, 95 percent of the lettuce grown and consumed in the US was crisphead lettuce. By the end of the century, other types began to regain popularity and eventually made up over 30 percent of production.[38] As of 2007, 70 percent of the lettuce production in the US comes from California; in that country it ranks third in produce consumption behind tomatoes and oranges.[39]

Changes in production methods, including all of the processes from growing to sales, have become much larger in scale during the 20th century. The majority of agricultural production is done with the application of large amounts of chemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides, but large-scale organic production makes up a growing percentage of the market  a trend that began with small growers but moved to a more industrial scale. More non-heading types, mostly leaf and romaine lettuces, are also being grown.[38]

Culinary use

As described around 50 AD, the leaves were often cooked and served by the Romans with an oil and vinegar dressing; however, smaller leaves were sometimes eaten raw. During the 81 96 AD reign of Domitian, the tradition of serving a lettuce salad before a meal began. Post-Roman Europe continued the tradition of poaching lettuce, mainly with large romaine types, as well as the method of pouring a hot oil and vinegar mixture over the leaves.[8] Today, the majority of lettuce is grown for its leaves, although one type is grown for its stem and one for its seeds, which are made into an oil.[19] Most lettuce is used in salads, either alone or with other greens, vegetables, meats and cheeses. Romaine lettuce is often used for Caesar salads, with a dressing that includes anchovies and eggs. Lettuce leaves can also be found in soups, sandwiches and wraps, while the stems are eaten both raw and cooked.[9]

Nutrition and health

Depending on the variety, lettuce is a good source of vitamin A and potassium, with higher concentrations of vitamin A found in darker green lettuces. It also provides some dietary fiber (concentrated in the spine and ribs), carbohydrates, protein and a small amount of fat. With the exception of the iceberg type, lettuce also provides some vitamin C, calcium, iron and copper, with vitamins and minerals largely found in the leaf.[27]

Food-borne illness

Although most food-borne pathogens can survive on stored lettuce, they tend to decline in number during the storage period. The exception to this is Listeria monocytogenes, the causative agent of listeriosis, which multiplies in storage. However, despite very high levels of the bacteria being found on ready-to-eat lettuce products, a 2008 study found no incidences of food-borne illness related to listeriosis. The researcher posited that this may be due to the product's short shelf life, indigenous microflora competing with the Listeria bacteria, or possible properties within the lettuce that cause the bacteria to be unable to cause listeriosis.[40]

Other bacteria found on lettuce include Aeromonas species, which have not been linked to any outbreaks; Campylobacter species, which cause campylobacteriosis and Yersinia intermedia and Yersinia kristensenii, which have been found mainly in lettuce.[41] Lettuce has been linked to numerous outbreaks of the bacteria E. coli O157:H7 and Shigella; the plants were most likely contaminated through contact with animal feces.[42] Salmonella bacteria, including the uncommon Salmonella braenderup type, have also caused outbreaks traced to contaminated lettuce.[43] Viruses, including hepatitis A, calicivirus, and a Norwalk-like strain, have been found in lettuce. The vegetable has also been linked to outbreaks of parasitic infestations, including Giardia lamblia.[41]

Medicinal lore

In addition to its usual purpose as an edible leafy vegetable, lettuce has had a number of uses in ancient (and even some more modern) times as a medicinal herb and religious symbol. For example, ancient Egyptians thought lettuce to be a symbol of sexual prowess[38] and a promotor of love and childbearing in women, and the Romans likewise claimed that it increased sexual potency.[44] In contrast, the ancient Greeks connected the plant with male impotency[8] and served it during funerals (probably due to its role in the myth of Adonis's death), and British women in the 1800s believed it would cause infertility and sterility. Lettuce has mild narcotic properties it was called "sleepwort" by the Anglo-Saxons due to this attribute although the cultivated L. sativa has lower levels of the narcotic than its wild cousins.[44] This narcotic effect is a property of two sesquiterpene lactones, located in the white liquid in the stems of lettuce, called latex.[25]

Lettuce extracts are sometimes used in skin creams and lotions for treating sunburn and rough skin. It was once thought to be useful in relieving liver issues. Some American settlers claimed that smallpox could be prevented through the ingestion of lettuce,[44] and an Iranian belief suggested consumption of the seeds when afflicted with typhoid.[45] Folk medicine has also claimed it as a treatment for pain, rheumatism, tension and nervousness, coughs and insanity; scientific evidence of these benefits in humans has not been found, although similar effects have been demonstrated in mice and toads.[25] The religious ties of lettuce continue into the present day among the Yazidi people of northern Iraq, who have a religious prohibition against eating the plant.[46]


Cited literature

External links

am: ang:Leahtric ar: an:Lactuca sativa be: bg: bar:Salot ca:Enciam cs:Locika set cy:Letysen de:Gartensalat et:Aedsalat el: es:Lactuca sativa eo:Kultiva laktuko eu:Uraza fa: fr:Laitue cultiv e gv:Glassyr ko: io:Latugo id:Selada is:Salat it:Lactuca sativa he: kk: ht:Leti ku:Kah la:Lactuca sativa lt:S jamoji salota lij:Leituga hu:Fejes sal ta mk: ms:Salad my: nah:Quillechuca nl:Sla ja: pnb: pl:Sa ata siewna pt:Alface kaa:Salat (o'simlik) ro:Salat qu:Pilliyuyu ru: ( ) sc:Lattuca scn:Lattuca simple:Lettuce sr: fi:Lehtisalaatti sv:Sallat ta: th: to:L tisilau tr:Marul uk: ( ) ug: zh:

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