Click HERE to read a story from the Brothers Grimm about the transforming power of lettuce...hee haw!

"Sith that our auncients usde to eate,
Lettuce when all waqs doon:
I muse why every meale of us,
With Lettuce is begunne.

--Timothe Kendall's translation of Martial's "Xenia 14: Lettuce"

"Because lettuces are owned by the moon, they cool and moisten what heat and dryness Mars causeth. The juice of the lettuce mixed or boiled with oil of roses and applied to the forehead and temples, procureth sleep, and easeth the Headache proceeding of an hot cause."
--Nicholas Culpeper in The Complete Herbal (1653)

"To dream of lettuces is said to portend trouble."
--Richard Folkard in Plant Lore (1884)

"Lettuce is divine, although I'm not sure it's really a food."
--Diana Vreeland

"Spinach is the broom of the stomach."
--French proverb

"I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."
--E.B. White

"What a world of gammon and spinach it is, though, ain't it?"
--Charles Dickens

"If we plant nettles or sow lettuce...the power...lies in our wills."
--Iago, in Shakespeare's Othello, I, 3

Three crates of Private Eye Lettuce,
the name and drawing of a detective
with magnifying glass on the sides
of the crates of lettuce,
form a great cross in man's imagination
and his desire to name
the objects of this world.
I think I'll call this place Golgotha
and have some salad for dinner

--Richard Brautigan, 1968

How to eat spinach like a child: Divide into little piles. Rearrange again into new piles. After five or six maneuvers, sit back and say you are full
--Delia Ephron, New York Times, 1983

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Lettuces and Greens

More can be found under specific entries, but here's a useful way to categorize and think about these wide-ranging greens:

Lettuces (Lactuca sativa):

Native to the Mediterranean and the Mideast, lettuces are plants of great age. We know, anyway, that they were cultivated in the royal gardens of the Persian kings as long ago as 2,500 years. It got its name from its milky sap--and, by association, was supposed to benefit lactating mothers who needed rich milk to feed their babies. Then, according to George Lang, in his Compendium of Culinary Nonsense and Trivia, "the ancient Greeks served lettuce soup at the end of a meal because it was supposed to be sleep-inducing. And Emperor Domitian purposely served lettuce at the beginning of state dinners, hoping to torture all guests who, of course, couldn't fall asleep in from of their Imperial Majesty." Likewise, when Beatrix Potter's Flopsy Bunnies eat lots of shot lettuce, it was "so soporific" that they fell deeply asleep and did not wake when arch enemy Mr. MacGregor found them and poured grass shavings on them. And, too, my favorite childhood story, certainly, was Rapunzel, which turned on a question of lettuces, as you shall see:
There was once a man and his wife who had long wished in vain for a child, and at last they had reason to hope that heaven would grant their wish. There was a little window at the back of their house, which overlooked a beautiful garden full of lovely flowers and vegetables. It was, however, surrounded by a high wall, and nobody dared to enter it, because it belonged to a powerful witch who was feared by everybody.
One day, the woman stood at the window and looked at the garden--and saw beautiful lettuces growing. They looked so fresh and green that she longed to eat some of them. This longing increased every day, and as she knew it could never be satisfied, she began to look pale and miserable and to pine away. Then her husband was alarmed and said, "What ails you, dear wife?"
"Alas!" she answered, "if I cannot get any of the lettuce to eat from the garden behind our house, I shall die."
There are 4 separate categories of this seductive leaf:
  • Crisphead, or "iceberg" lettuce.
  • Butterhead lettuce, which includes Boston lettuce, Bibb lettuce (named for John Bibb, who developed it in Frankfort, Kentucky, in the 1850s), Buttercrunch lettuce, and Tom Thumb.
  • Leaf or "bunching" lettuce, which includes green and red, frilly and lobed varietals.
  • Romaine or cos lettuce.

Condiment Greens, on the bitter side

These include:
  • Endive and escarole (cichorium endiva), where endive has curled, lacy leaves and escarole has smooth broad leaves. Belgium endive is so called because it is really the blanched shoots of chicory--a food form that was created in 1850 by the head gardener at the Brussels Botonical Gardens.
  • Chicory (Cichorium intybus), with oblong, basal foliage--and also with white tubular heads that are forced and blanched in the dark, then called "Belgian endive" or "witloof chicory." Radicchio, below, is also a chicory. (And yes--the roots of the Magdeburg chicory are dried, ground, and brewed as substitute coffee.)
  • Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
  • Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)--also called "sour grass"

Gourmet Greens

These include:
  • Mâche (Valerianella locusta--also known as lamb's lettuce or corn lettuce.
  • Radicchio (Cichorium intybus)
  • Trevisse
  • Arugula (Eruca vesicaria sativa)--aka rocket.
  • Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)--a water plant that is so rich in iron that its leaves and stems oxidize and turn purpley if they are exposed to air for long.
  • Nasturtium (Trapaeolum majus)--also called Indian Cress. It's a native of Chile and Peru and takes its name from its shape: trapaeolum means trophy, as its leaves look like a shield and its flowers like a Greek warrior's helmet.
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)--native to India, it reached Britain and northern Europe by the 15th century. Giles Rose, chef to England's Charles II, always included this in the King's salad.
  • Mustard greens (Brassica juncea and Brassica campestris)--actually a member of the cabbage family