• W.D. Dickinson

Lettuce History

An Egyptian wall fragment from the third millennium B.C. portrays Min, the god of fertility, in what appears to be a field of lettuces identifiably romaine. Cos, the alternative name used for romaine lettuces, comes from the Greek Island of Kos, which was cultivation center in the Byzantine era. Lettuce was consumed throughout the Arab world and was used medicinally with vinegar for the stomach in the Byzantine Empire of the 11th century.

Cos lettuce traveled to Italy in Roman times where it was consumed raw as an appetizer — still a culinary practice today — or cooked and served with oil and vinegar. It arrived in France by the 15th century where it was christened Avignon lettuce in the 1530s and later became known as Roman (hence Romaine) lettuce. By the late 16th century loose-leaf and heading types were known.


At other times in its history it has been used to cool the body, as a sedative narcotic, as an anti-diarrheal, and to reduce coughs. It was used as a medicinal herb in medieval times. Recently a product obtained from the sap of lettuce variously referred to as “lettuce opium” or “hash” has gained limited popularity as an underground drug.


The world of heirloom lettuce offers many interesting varieties still available from a wide array of sources.


Except from Grit

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© 2019  by W.D.Dickinson