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Lettuce, its healthy and medicinal value

  1. We all know lettuce or Lactuca sativa as a vegetable. As a herbalist I always wonder whether such well-known plants have medicinal value in addition to their culinary value.

Lettuce or Lactuca sativa

  1. Due to the large size of the family, the number of species eaten as vegetables and developed by breeders into cultivars and varieties is relatively small. One of the most important vegetable varieties, economically speaking, is lettuce. This genus includes several types that are widely cultivated. A real wild form of our cultivated lettuce is not known. Probably all cultivated varieties descend in one way or another from the so-called 'wild lettuce' Lactuca serriola, which is found in various places in Western Europe, West Asia and North Africa and still occurs in our country.

Types of lettuce

  1. Lettuce is already an old cultivated crop. The first data date from around 550 BC. when the plant was eaten as a stew in Egypt and at the Persian courts. Judging by the images on old murals, these were probably primitive binding slats. Romaine lettuce and other shrinking lettuce types are known from around the beginning of our era. Head lettuce is first mentioned in 1540; Ice lettuce, or iceberg lettuce, is much younger and dates back to the last century. Broadly speaking, the following varieties can be distinguished:

Stem lettuce

  1. This form was developed in China, where between 600 and 900 people became acquainted with the phenomenon of lettuce. From that moment on, the focus was mainly on plants with relatively few leaves and a long, fleshy stem whose pith is edible. In Asia these stems are cut at the ground, defoliated and sold tied in bunches. An American seed company obtained some seed from Tibet in 1938 and marketed the crop as a new vegetable in 1941 under the name of celtuce, a contraction of cellery (celery) and lettuce (lettuce). We usually call this variety stem lettuce.

Head lettuce

  1. Is by far the most important lettuce variety. Head or butterhead lettuce has thin and soft leaves that quickly lose their firmness after harvest. The leaf color varies from yellowish green ('blond') to dark green. Sometimes the cell juice contains the substance anthocyanin, which turns the leaf red, especially in drought and low temperatures. For a long time, the presence of this substance has been considered an undesirable property, but now we find it very decorative and we know that anthocyanins have a strong anti-oxidant effect and are therefore very healthy,

Iceberg lettuce

  1. Is a head lettuce type with thick and crispy leaves that remain firm for a long time after harvesting. Ice lettuce was introduced to the United States in 1894 under the name 'Iceberg'. In the 1930s, through breeding, the harder type was developed that we know today and which is well resistant to transport over longer distances.

Pluck lettuce

  1. By plucked lettuce we mean various non-shrinking types of lettuce with crimped or strongly incised leaves. The varieties that contain anthocyanins, and thus have red leaves, seem to be gaining in popularity. Romaine lettuce and misticanza, in particular, are harvested and marketed as young leaves.

Binds lettuce

  1. Is probably the oldest form of lettuce as a cultivated crop. The heads of this type are elongated in shape and more or less closed at the top. To obtain a good yellow coloring, the heads were often tied closed, hence the name. The leaf of this lettuce is rather stiff and is therefore less suitable for raw consumption. So it is usually stewed.

Lettuce as a medicine or food supplement

  1. Lettuce varieties are of course usually eaten as a vegetable, but they also have a medicinal effect. Its calming and even analgesic effect is classic because of the white milky sap in the stem and leaf veins, substances that are somewhat related to opium and morphine. It was even called 'lettuce opium' and described in 19th century pharmacy books.

Dodoens over lettuce

  1. Dodoens also refers in his Cruydboeck to that calming effect of the latte, it was not only taken internally to 'sleep gherustelick' but also externally as a cooling and pain-relieving compress' gruen ghestooten sijn goet gheleyt on the freshest burns before they come forth and on all the heat they want four 'and even to calm the male urges' sad that manly saet ende dispels the lust of bis sleeps', although he advises to remove the seed of the overslept lettuce to consume.

New uses of Lactuca sativa

  1. And, new modern medical applications are certainly not excluded. Red lettuce varieties are already being cultivated, not to decorate the plates in star restaurants, but to process them into anti-oxidant food supplements. And what about a very recent scientific study that showed that an aqueous extract of Lactuca sativa had an inhibitory effect on some leukemia and breast cancer cells. OK, you had to eat 3 kg of lettuce, but it is a small trick to process a lot of lettuce in a juice or to put it dried as a powder in capsules.

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