As all lettuces are, Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa. var. longifolia) is from the Asteraceae family, which also includes artichokes. Romaine is widely referred to as Cos lettuce, and in some areas is known as Roman or Manchester lettuce. This leafy green vegetable will produce a head, but unlike other head lettuces, Iceberg and Butterhead, it produces a much more elongated head. Plus, this lovely lettuce is more heat tolerant than the others and is less likely to bolt.
Not the New Kid on the Block
Being a lettuce, Romaine hails from the Mediterranean area, eventually moving its way through Europe. It’s thought that this lettuce has been utilized for over 5,000 years for culinary and medicinal uses. There has even been artwork discovered, within Egyptian structures, of lettuce looking plants painted with elongated, pointy leaves that most likely represents Romaine.
So Much to Offer
Even though Romaine has been around for eons, it has just begun gaining popularity in the past few decades, and has become one of the most popular lettuces, second only to iceberg. Looking at this lettuce’s nutrition profile you can easily see why. In a 100 gram serving, Romaine offers 17 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 3 grams of carbohydrates (2 grams of which is dietary fiber). Romaine lettuce is an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, K-1, and B-9 (Folate). It also offers some much needed B-1 (Thiamin), B-2 (Riboflavin), B-3 (Niacin), B-6, B-5, and the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. Plus, as with any lettuce, it’s great for hydration, offering nearly 3 ounces of water per 100 grams.
Romaine lettuce also provides some unique health benefits, beyond what you may usually associate with a lettuce. Romaine offers Omega-3s, specifically ALA (Alpha-Linoleic Acid), which is a precursor to EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are essential for proper brain function and to fight inflammation. When you consume ALA, your body converts it into EPA and DHA. When eating a 100 gram serving of Romaine you will take in just under 10% of the RDA for Omega-3s.
This leafy green also contains some amazing phenolic phytochemicals, including caffeic acids. The phenolic compounds help aid in digestion, reduce inflammation, offer neuroprotective properties, reduce the risk of cancer, and help to reduce depression and anxiety. All these properties improve health, cognition, and the overall sense of wellbeing.
The health benefits of Romaine don’t just include what Romaine does have, but also what it doesn’t have. Since this veggie isn’t high in oxalic acid, it makes a great choice when trying to pick a leafy green for those that suffer from kidney stones caused by calcium oxalate. To compare, in a 100 gram serving, Romaine has 0.21 grams of oxalic acid, whereas spinach has 0.97 grams. Usually any foods containing over 0.5 grams/100 grams are suggested to be avoided. Plus foods high in oxalic acids act as an anti-nutrient, blocking the absorption, due to binding, of essential minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
To grow this nutritional powerhouse, plant seeds in full sun or partial shade, ¼” apart with approximately a dozen seeds per foot. As a cool-weather vegetable, Romaine can be planted in either early spring or early fall to avoid summer’s heat. As the seedlings begin to grow, thin them to 8” apart and either transplant or eat the seedlings that were removed. Romaine will need to be watered with frequent light waterings to produce a healthy and tasty crop. However, don’t overwater or allow lettuce to stand in water, as this can increase the threat of developing mildews and rot.
The other threats to Romaine include all the unusual suspects that afflict other lettuces. These include pests such as cutworms and aphids. Attracting predatory insects and spiders can help control populations of aphids. If cutworms are discovered, pick them off by hand and drop them into soapy water. To prevent cutworms, sprinkle spent coffee grounds and/or eggshells around your plants or try using diatomaceous earth circled around your plants. Keeping your garden free of weeds, and allowing proper air circulation, can help keep your Romaine pest and disease free.
When it’s time to harvest, look for large, loose heads that have thick, crumply looking leaves that are a nice dark vibrant green. The darker the leaves the more nutrition and flavor they will offer. Often you can gently scratch the stalk and smell to see if your Romaine is sweet or bitter depending upon the scent it gives off. Romaine is usually harvested as a whole head, but only leaves can be picked as well. You will know your Romaine is ready to be harvested when you see the heads just beginning to close. This is the time to pick, as waiting much longer will result in bolting.
Once picked, Romaine can be stored in an airtight bag for ten days. All lettuces, including Romaine, should be stored in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer and away from all fruit. Also once picked, it’s time to enjoy this terrifically tangy leafy green. Adding Romaine to your next salad can make it a dish you can’t resist. Try this satisfying salad the next time you’re feeling creative in the kitchen.
The Oh My Salad
4 oranges, peeled and pulled apart into segments
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ medium red onion, coarsely chopped
½ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon grassfed butter
2 pears, cored and cut into large chunks
1 cup walnuts, properly soaked and roasted
½ lb. prosciutto, sliced into thin strips
1 large head of Romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
Place all dressing ingredients into a blender
Blend until smooth
Chill until ready to use
Add butter to a skillet
Melt over medium heat
Add pears and walnuts
Sauté until golden brown
Place Romaine in a large bowl
Add prosciutto, pears, walnuts, and dressing
Serve and enjoy!
This salad is yours for the making, and for taking and making it your own. So if you want to add different fruits or meats, have at it. Make it delicious, make it fun, and make it yours!
Romaine Calm and Garden On!
Cultivating this flavorful leafy green vegetable is a worthwhile endeavor. Romaine not only makes your dishes wonderfully tasty, it will also add serious health benefits to your meals. So whether for taste, health, or simple gardening joy (or maybe all the above), Romaine is a wonderful lettuce to add to your garden and to enjoy everything it has to offer!
Domenichiello, A., et al. July, 2015. Progress in Lipid Research. Science Direct. Is docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from α-linolenic acid sufficient to supply the adult brain? V: 59. Pages: 54-66. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2015.04.002. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0163782715000223
Harsha, S.. et al. January, 2013. The Journal of Biomedical Research. Anxiolytic property of hydro-alcohol extract of Lactuca sativa and its effect on behavioral activities of mice. V: 27(1). Pages 37-42. doi: 10.7555/JBR.27.20120059. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3596753/
Penn State Extension. 2017. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. Lettuce: Green and Romaine. https://extension.psu.edu/health/nutrition-links/pennsylvania-produce/produce-buying-guide/lettuce-green-and-romaine
Sung-Eun, I., et al. August 13, 2010. Journal of Medicinal Food. Department of Food Science and Technology and Institute of Life Science and Resources, Kyung Hee University, Yongin, Republic of Korea. Antineurodegenerative effect of phenolic extracts and caffeic acid derivatives in romaine lettuce on neuron-like PC-12 cells.
University of Kentucky Extension. June, 2011. University of Kentucky-College of Agriculture. Romaine Lettuce. https://www.uky.edu/Ag/CCD/introsheets/romaine.pdf