Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
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The Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a temperate annual or biennial plant of the daisy family Asteraceae. It is most often grown as a leaf vegetable. In many countries, it is typically eaten cold and raw, in salads, hamburgers, tacos, and many other dishes. In some places, including China, lettuce is typically eaten cooked and use of the stem is as important as use of the leaf. Both the English name and the Latin name of the genus are ultimately derived from lac, the Latin word for “milk”, referring to the plant’s milky juice. Mild in flavour, it has been described over the centuries as a cooling counterbalance to other ingredients in a salad, however it has been humorously described by filmmaker John Waters in his humorous essay, 100 Things I Hate, refers to iceberg lettuce as “the polyester of greens”.
The lettuce plant has a short stem initially (a rosette growth habit), but when it blooms the stem lengthens and branches, and it produces many flower heads that look like those of dandelions, but smaller. This is called bolting. When grown to eat, lettuce is harvested before it bolts. Lettuce is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera.
There are six commonly recognised Cultivar Groups of lettuce which are ordered here by head formation and leaf structure; there are hundreds of cultivars of lettuce selected for leaf shape and colour, as well as extended field and shelf life, within each of these Cultivar Groups:
Some lettuces (especially iceberg) have been specifically bred to remove the bitterness from their leaves. These lettuces have a high water content with very little nutrient value. The more bitter lettuces and the ones with pigmented leaves contain antioxidants.