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Facts about Lettuce for Kids

Lettuce is an annual plant of the aster or sunflower family Asteraceae. Lettuce was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, who turned it from a weed whose seeds were used to make oil into a plant grown for its leaves. It 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 centuries saw the development of many varieties in Europe, and by the mid-18th century cultivars were described that can still be found in gardens.
  • Europe and North America originally dominated the market for lettuce, but by the late 1900s the consumption of lettuce had spread throughout the world.
  • Generally grown as a hardy annual, lettuce is easily cultivated, although it requires relatively low temperatures to prevent it from quickly flowering.
  • Lactuca sativa is a member of the Lactuca (lettuce) genus and the Asteraceae (sunflower or aster) family.
  • The Romans referred to lettuce as lactuca (lac meaning milk in Latin), an allusion to the white substance exuded by cut stems.
  • The name romaine came from that type’s use in the Roman papal gardens, while cos, another term for romaine lettuce, came from the earliest European seeds of the type from the Greek island of Cos, a center of lettuce farming in the Byzantine period.
  • Lettuces have a wide range of shapes and textures, from the dense heads of the iceberg type to the notched, scalloped, frilly or ruffly leaves of leaf varieties.
  • However, genetically modified lettuce is not currently used in commercial agriculture.
  • Lettuce was first cultivated in ancient Egypt for the production of oil from its seeds.
  • There are seven main cultivar groups of lettuce, each including many varieties: Leaf – Also known as looseleaf, cutting or bunching lettuce, this type has loosely bunched leaves and is the most widely planted.
  • Lettuce also suffers from several viral diseases, including big vein, which causes yellow, distorted leaves, and mosaic virus, which is spread by aphids and causes stunted plant growth and deformed leaves.
  • Weeds can also be an issue, as cultivated lettuce is generally not competitive with them, especially when directly seeded into the ground.
  • 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.
  • In the US, no one type predominated until the early 20th century, when crisphead lettuces began gaining popularity.
  • Most lettuce is used in salads, either alone or with other greens, vegetables, meats and cheeses.
  • 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.
  • For example, ancient Egyptians thought lettuce to be a symbol of sexual prowess and a promotor of love and childbearing in women, and the Romans likewise claimed that it increased sexual potency.