Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Harvest lettuce in the morning

I harvested some leaves off these lettuce just the other day at the crack of dawn. My best tasting lettuce yet, crisp with not even a hint of bitterness. Turns out success of a bitterless lettuce is not totally in the growing but also the harvesting. I recently learnt that lettuce has a substance responsible for its bitterness and that this substance resides in the plants roots. During the day it is released into the leaves and returns to the roots at night. So to get the optimum flavour out of your lettuce you have to harvest them at dawn when the substance is at its lowest concentration in the leaves. Harvesting in the morning prior to moisture loss from the heat of the sun also provides the greatest crispness.

Not all of our lettuce have been successful and no matter how early I get up in the morning this lettuce is just going to taste bitter. I was very surprised to have one bolt on me at this time of year, sensitive little poppet. I probably looked at it the wrong way.

Remember the lettuce seedlings attacked by sparrows? Well this is one of them, as you can see the attack obviously stunted its growth, its tiny. I haven’t tasted it but I would be willing to bet it is also bitter as hell.

Keen to put a name to that bitter substance I searched the Internet, the closest I could get to an answer is Lactucarium. Interestingly Lactucarium, or commonly named Lettuce Opium, has sedative and analgesic properties and known to be used by the Ancient Egyptians. It was declared a drug in the United States around 1799 and was prescribed and studied extensively in Poland and was viewed as an alternative to opium. Lettuce can be found in medical textbooks as far back as 1000 AD. Luckily for us gardeners twentieth century research could find no evidence of these qualities, otherwise that humble garden salad might have ended up on the illicit drug list.

What are your tips for growing, harvesting or storing great tasting lettuce?


  1. G'day Jason,

    You are a hive of information lad! We also grow the flame variety of lettuce but Ana tells me that it is far too bitter to use, so it has been left in the ground to eventually collect the seed. Now we know when to pick it. You learn something new every day. Thankyou. I must admit we tend to pick the leaves when they are young and count on the plant replacing them. We also eat a lot of salad vegetables and our neighbours are the same. What we can't consume we give away.

    Thankyou for the tip.



  2. You are welcome Steve nice to know you appreciate the information. It was news to me too only a month or so ago.

  3. Pick the outside leaves for a while then leave your best lettuce to go to seed and shake it all around the garden. Hopefully you'll get a year or so of self sown lettuce all over the garden and there'll always be a couple of plants to pick from. I have a Linda Woodrow basis garden too and the best lettuces always grow in the paths.

  4. I do like self sown plants. They are such a nice surprise to discover, particularly if they yield well. That's wonderful to know you to have a mandala garden. I trust the design works well for you? The only thing that grows in my paths is sour sobs. I wonder if lettuce likes the high carbon content of the paths? Assuming you also use saw dust.


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