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Common lettuce, Lactuca sativa, has its origins in the Middle East. Egyptian wall murals of Min, the god of fertility, depict lettuce in cultivation in about 2700 B.C. The plant — similar to modern romaine, with a thick stem and milky sap — had sexual connotations. Min consumed lettuce as a sacred food for sexual stamina, and ordinary Egyptians used the oil of the wild seeds for medicine, cooking, and mummification.

The Greeks learned how to grow lettuce from the Egyptians. They used it medicinally as a sedative and served it as a salad at the beginning of meals to help with digestion. They also continued to cultivate it for tastier leaves. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite’s lover Adonis was killed in a bed of lettuce

Lettuce regained its association with sexual potency during its time with the Romans, who, like the Egyptians, believed it could increase stamina. They took advantage of its medicinal qualities, serving a salad before meals to stimulate digestion, and again after dinner as a sleep aid.


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