The lettuce we grow likely originated from wild lettuce (Lactuca serriola). Evidence that the Egyptians grew it can be found in wall paintings and tomb reliefs that date back to 2680 BC. People have been using it medicinally through the ages.
The Romans called lettuce lactuca (lac meaning mild in Latin) for the white substance that exudes from cut stems. Sativa -meaning sown or cultivated is the species name.
One lettuce plant can produce 30,000 seeds. Lettuce plants must be 10-20 feet away from all other varieties of Lactuca sativa that have gone to seed to save seeds that are true to type. You can harvest viable seeds from one plant. You need 12-15 plants for variety maintenance and you only need 20 plants or more for genetic preservation. You can learn how to plant and save lettuce seeds here.
The varieties that are currently available for everyone who is willing to grow them for food and seeds from the KASSI Living Seed Commons are listed in alphabetical order below. The date indicates when it was introduced to North America.
- Caroline: leaf and butterhead type with beautiful pink colouring on pale green leaves. It is medium sized (8″-12″). It has mild taste and tender texture. Heat tolerant and slow to bolt. Black seeds. Caroline was developed at Heathfield by Carol and Robert Mouck from 2000.
- Dunsel Mate’s Hungarian: leaf type. green. Early spring or fall. Black seed 1930s
- Oakleaf (Green): tight rosettes of green oak leaf hsaped leaves, very tender, long lasting. White seed. 1827
- Ruby: leaf type with frilled leaves-bright green marbled with deep red shading. Good crisp sweet flavored. Slow to bolt. White seed. 1958.
- Red Salad Bowl: leaf type with burgandy leaves and green centres. Slow to bolt, tender and mild tasting. Black seed. 1955.
- Arctic King: small green firm soft heads. Cold tolerant. White seed. From England 1900.
- Bibb: green loosely folded heads, bronze tinged leaves. Spring or fall. Black seed. 1850.
- Four Seasons: beautiful delciious with tender sweet heavily crinkleed leaves that change from green to cranberry red at the tops. Loose heads are 8-12″. Black seed. From France before 1885.
- Red Riding Hood: red or red with some green large heads. Leaves are crisp and are slow to bolt. Tender when young. Black seed.
- Tom Thumb: small green heads -creamy yellow heart 3-4″ across. Excellent for container gardening. Black seed. 1830
- Cimmaron: deep red leaves, creamy yellow heart, crisp. Slow to bolt. Black seed. 1700s.