Lettuce & Salad Greens (About)

Boston or Butterhead Lettuce

Boston or Butterhead Lettuce

By Cat, April 2015 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Lettuce is a wonderful, tasty, and nutritious green.  Some lettuce greens can be cooked (light saute or steamed), but the most common use is in salads.  Many people only know iceberg lettuce (the solid, tight-wrapped heads), but there are many other varieties.

In this article, I refer to all of the following as ‘lettuce’:

  • True Lettuce (Lactuca sativa): Basically, there are two main categories:  head lettuce, and leaf lettuce; but there are many varieties in each category.
  • “Young greens,” are usually not lettuce, but are often used with, or in place of, lettuce in salads; for example, baby spinach, baby chard, baby kale, arugula, mustard, and dandelion.
  • Mesclun is a mix of salad greens including baby lettuces, spinach, arugula (rocket, or roquette), Swiss chard (silver beet), mustard, endive, dandelion, frisée, mizuna, mâche (lamb’s lettuce), radicchio, sorrel, and/or other leaf vegetables (1).

Health Benefits

Young, fresh greens perhaps provide the most health benefit, but even older greens are quite healthful. They are rich in chlorophyl which gives them their green color; did you know that chlorophyl is very similar to hemoglobin?

Red and dark colored greens have the most (known) antioxidants.

All are rich in minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, but these are bound in such a way that they are not readily absorbable unless the greens are braised (in oil and moisture), or at least dressed with an oily dressing. See Vinaigrette Salad Dressings & Marinades.

Carotenes (beta carotene, gluten and zeaxanthin), Vitamins K and C, and several B vitamins (especially B6, folate, niacin, and riboflavin)are abundant in most greens. (4)

Seasonal Greens

Most lettuce does not keep long, and it easily rusts if cut with a knife (better to tear, rather than cut). It grows well in the cooler spring, but will bolt when the weather warms into midsummer. So we must eat heartily of lettuce and greens during the spring and summer, because during the rest of the year, there will not be much lettuce (unless it is imported). One exception is endive, which can be grown in a dark root cellar through the winter; see my article on The EssentiaList: Growing Belgian Endive (3) ,inspired by Don Bates, a local gardener.

Fortunately, our body systems are programmed to utilize raw greens best in the warmer seasons, and cooked greens (kale, etc.) in the cooler seasons.  And isn’t it fortunate that kale and other members of the cabbage family keep well throughout the cold months, if stored properly?

Preparing greens

If the lettuce is still attached to the stem, I store them like that in the produce drawer of my fridge, as they will last longer than when removed from the stem.

If you grow your own greens, pick only those you intend to use in 1 – 5 days; wash, rinse and store them as described below.

Wash, Rinse, and Dry the leaves

When ready to use, I remove desired leaves from the stem and place in a large bowl of cold water with a bit of vinegar or a fruit & veggie wash added, and let it rest a few minutes. If the leaves are fairly wilted, I let them rest in the cold water until they perk up. Then I remove the leaves and rinse and shake them well to remove most of the water. Finally, I lay out the leaves on a cotton dishtowel, then roll up the towel to remove remaining moisture.

Although mixed greens have already been removed from the stem, I treat them the same way. Bags of mixed, pre-washed greens should also be washed again (with vinegar water), as I don’t believe the label is trustworthy, and you never know how long they have been in the bag.

If washed greens have been stored for more than 1 day, it’s a good idea to give them another wash with vinegar and water, then pat dry before using.

Storing washed greens

I do not recommend washing more than you intend to use in 2 – 5 days. And they will store better if you have removed most of the moisture from washing/rinsing them.

Lay paper towels or a cotton dish towel in the bottom of a hard container, then place the washed and mostly dried greens on the container. Cover with paper towel or dish towel and place the lid on the container. Store in the fridge.

For a good article on testing 3 methods of storing greens, see The Kitchn (2).


  1. Wikipedia on Mesclun (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesclun)
  2. The Kitchn: thekitchn.com/we-tried-3-ways-to-store-salad-greens-and-heres-our-winner-tips-from-the-kitchn-211770
  3. The EssentiaList: Growing Belgian Endive (essentialstuff.org/index.php/2012/11/11/Cat/growing-belgian-endive)
  4. Colorado State extension, on Health Benefits and Safe Handling of Salad Greens (ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09373.html

About Cat

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