Just as its name implies, Loose-leaf or simply Leaf lettuce doesn’t produce a head like Crispheads. Instead, it grows leaves loosely arranged on a stalk, in a rosette cluster. Loose-leaf (Lactuca sativa L.) can come in varying colors, including a gamut of greens and range of reddish purples, as well as differing leaf shapes. The flavors of the many varieties are typically mild and slightly sweet.
Just as the Crispheads, Butterheads, and Romaine lettuces discussed in previous articles, this attractive little garden vegetable is a cool weather crop that has its roots going back to ancient times starting in the Mediterranean area. One of the notable mentions of the Loose-leaf variety appeared in the1500’s through writings completed by German scholar Joachim Camerarius. The cultivations of loose-leaf and other varieties spread throughout Europe in the 16th to 18th centuries.
To grow your own loose-leaf lettuce, plant seeds as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring or late in the summer when the hottest part of the season has passed by. Lettuce can handle light frosts but doesn’t do well in scorching heat. Seeds should be sown in single rows, ½ inch deep, and then thinned to 4” apart. Rows should be 2’ apart and can have chives or garlic planted in between them to ward off aphids. To have a continuous harvestable crop sow additional seeds every 2-3 weeks.
As your lettuce grows, be sure to consistently and adequately water it. If you notice the leaves look limp or wilted, water them right away. However, be sure not to waterlog your lettuce and always allow it to have proper aeration. Doing this will help prevent foliage rot.
Loose-leaf lettuce usually reaches maturity in about 2 months. However, once your leaves have reached a size that is large enough to use it can be harvested. The younger the leaves, the tenderer and less bitter they will be.
Loose-leaf lettuce is a beautiful garden plant to grow that offers some attractive nutrition too. In an average serving (85 grams) of this lovely lettuce, you will be provided 14 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 2 grams of carbohydrates (1 gram of which is dietary fiber). Loose-leaf lettuce is an excellent source of Vitamins A and K-1. It is also a good source of manganese and offers Vitamins C, E, all of the B’s (except B-12), calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Certain varieties of Loose-leaf lettuces contain anthocyanins. Anthocyanins, which give the red and purple pigmentation to those particular lettuce varieties, is a bioflavonoid phytochemical. As a bioflavonoid phytochemical, anthocyanins are able to significantly decrease oxidative stress and inflammation and promote a healthy immune system. These functions allow them to reduce our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, neurological diseases, and many other chronic diseases.
With the nutritional profile that Loose-leaf lettuce has, it’s a wonderful vegetable to include in your next meal. My favorite thing to do with Loose-leaf lettuce, besides eating it straight out of the garden, is to create big ol’ salads with it. However, when making a salad I don’t always make a chilled one. In fact, one of my favorite salads is served wilted with a warm dressing drizzled over it.
Warm Wilted Loose-Leaf Salad
6 cups Loose-leaf lettuce, torn into large bite-size pieces
2 bunches green onion, sliced, both white and greens parts
6 radishes, sliced
8 strips of bacon, thick cut is my favorite choice to use in this recipe
3 tablespoons raspberry blush vinegar
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large skillet fry bacon until crispy
Remove bacon from pan, but leave drippings
Set bacon aside to cool
To the drippings, add vinegar, one bunch of sliced green onions, mustard, and salt and pepper
Bring to a boil
Let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
While dressing is simmering, in a large salad bowl, toss lettuce, one bunch of sliced green onions, and radishes
When dressing is done simmering pour over lettuce and toss
Crumble bacon slices and sprinkle on salad
Serve immediately to enjoy this deliciously warm salad!
Now if you want a salad on the cooler side, try this one on for size. While not an actual recipe per se, it’s how I make a big ol’ salad in my house.
I start with some Loose-leaf lettuce, torn into manageable pieces and put them in a large bowl. Then I top it with whatever is in the fridge or garden. Yep, that’s how it goes.
If I have tomatoes, avocadoes, onions, radishes, carrots, celery, mushrooms, bits of cauliflower or broccoli, radicchio, cucumbers, or any other vegetable I throw it on. I will even add an apple, pear, orange, or grapefruit now and then for a sweet flavor. If I am wanting a little crunch I will toss in some walnuts or almonds. When I have leftover beef, pork, poultry, seafood, or even boiled eggs, it goes on there too.
I like to add a little cottage cheese and any other assorted hard cheeses I may have on hand. I always add a little salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. For dressing, I either toss on some salsa if I am feeling festive, or usually I just stick with my tried and true olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.
I don’t think I ever make a salad the same way twice, and I like it that way. It lets me use up my leftovers and get as creative as I want. So, next time you have some fresh Loose-leaf lettuce all ready for the eating, create your own big ol’ salad and make it just the way you like it.
Loose-leaf lettuce is easy to grow, easy to eat, and makes it difficult to think of a reason not to have lettuce growing in your garden. This wonderfully delicious and nutritious leafy green is a delight to see in the garden and on the dinner table. So, grow on my friends and enjoy all Loose-leaf lettuce has to offer.
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
Lila, M. December 1, 2004. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. Anthocyanins and Human Health: An In Vitro Investigative Approach. V:5. Pages: 306–313. doi: 10.1155/S111072430440401X https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1082894/
University of Illinois Extension. 2017. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. College of ACES. Lettuce. https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/lettuce.cfm