Lettuce Dance
By R. D. Flavin


Let's dance put on your red shoes
and dance the blues
From “Let's Dance,” By David Bowie, 1983; EMI.

           , or elbewot (also abwt) is the ancient Egyptian term for 'lettuce', which was first domesticated from a local weed ca. 2680 BCE, primarily to press its seeds for oil. Early on, certain varieties (Latin lactuca) were prized by offering a medicinal latex-like sap gathered from the stems of certain breeds. Classical Greeks and Romans ate it raw as a side-dish or as a basis for soups. Rome gets extra credit for beginning the custom of serving a lettuce-based 'salad' before fuller and main courses, i.e., 'dinner'. Also used on a regular basis was Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. var. longifolia). The latex-like sap was incorporated into the vulgar rites to Min as an aphrodisiac to bolster the male's prowess during copulation.

3 Fig. 1-4. Fig. 1. Offerings in rock tomb of Meir, Chapel B, No. 2 (Blackman, 1915, vol. 2, plate X). The plant at the top with pointed leaves and stem with leaf scars is lettuce. Fig. 2. The fertility god Min with erect lettuce behind him and erect phallus before. The stylized lettuce stands on stylized checkerboard representation of a garden. From Koptos (Keimer, 1924a, p. 142). Fig. 3. Garden scene showing pot irrigation and garden produce, lettuce and leeks, Beni Hasan, tomb 3 (Newberry, 1893, plate 29). Fig. 4. Part of festival of Min with men carrying erect lettuce plants on platform with stylized representation of checkerboard garden. They follow the statue of Min in the procession. University of Chicago, Medinet Habu, vol. 4, plate 201. (Harlan 1986, p. 5).

The chemistry seems weak and its application a matter for the applicator and his/her fee. I'd give it a 50/50% of getting a small bag of gold or the losing of an anatomical part of the former applicator. However if it did or didn't it remained to present itself as being responsible for an erection. Gold or body part? Rough line of work to be in. 'Sleepwort' or botanical Viagra? I'm sure luck played a major role in its various outcomes.

     To continue to cite (read: length bordering on illegality) the late Prof. Harlan's work – adjunct professor at Tulane University (agronomy) – seems appropriate:

Most important, however, is the association of lettuce with the god Min (later confounded with Amon). Min was a popular god in vogue from the Old Kingdom into Hellenistic times. He had a nome devoted to him, a number of temples consecrated to him, and was lord of the desert, the lightning, and the sandstorm. More importantly, he was a god of fertility and procreation. He is shown in a variety of configurations, but the main features of his representations are: an ostrich feather headdress, a scourge or flagellum, signifying power, a checkerboard stand or an offering stand with tall, erect lettuce plants behind him and an erect phallus before him (Bleeker, 1956). The god is depicted many times on temple or tomb walls, but if you have seen one Min, you have pretty well seen them all. The lettuce plants behind him, however, are shown in a great variety of treatments causing no end of confusion for scholars over the years (ibid p. 60).

And, more:

The use of Lactuca latex died slowly. Wissowa and Kroll (1925) commented: "Heute ist dieser eingetrocknete Saft (lactucarium) nicht mehr gebrauchlich." But Vignes (1932) as late as the 1930s reported considerable success in treating a variety of female disorders with lettuce extracts, but said that they should not be compared to opium, but rather to belladonna! Although Coxe never referred to the ancients, it is hardly possible that he was not aware of them. The Greek herbal of Dioscorides was Englished by John Goodyear in 1655 and must have been well known to every Western medical man of the 18th century (Gunther, 1934). There it is stated about wild lettuce: "It is somewhat in virtue like unto the Poppy- [and it] -doth avert wanton dreams and veneries." Actually, the Greek version had never disappeared completely. Leclerc (1874) translated an Arabic medicinal treatise of the early 18th century in which the therapeutic properties of lettuce are described. Chomel (1782) claimed extracts of lettuce have soporific properties. Linnaeus, himself, was so convinced of the anti aphrodisiac qualities that he cited the case of a rich Englishman who very much wanted children. "He was told by his physician that the only way he could have children was to stop his use of lettuce which he very much abused" (Scotti, 1872).

     To repeat, rough line of work. Bitter lettuce with its oil-enriched seeds is still cultivated at a few farms. The well-known sub-species of the common looseleaf or bunching lettuces are the primacy of Romaine, as well as the infamous Iceberg or Summercrisp (aka Batavian or French crisp). The essential leafy plant is among the weakest, disease and insect snack-food of  backyard garden treats. Better to buy the local leafy 'breed without a name' than attempt one's own efforts in an urban environment.

     Okay, in some varieties of lettuce (once you get past the bun, burger, cheese, ketchup, mayo, onions, pickles, and tomatoes) you may encounter a leafy green vegetable with some betaine, calcium, choline, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid, potassium, phosphorus selenium, riboflavin, selenium, sodium, thiamine, vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, and zinc. Then, there's America and the world's most popular and least nutritious lettuce, the dependable Iceberg lettuce. And, so much for lettuce…

     Before we dance, I'll relate a most embarrassing and personal event from my childhood through teenage years. One year while my dad was stationed at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey, I was 5 or so and eager for adventure. I discovered a neighbor's garden filled with dozens and dozens to small cherry tomatoes. Taking up residence in the middle of the garden I began to eat ...dozens and dozens of small cherry tomatoes. I got sick to my stomach, upchucked, and swore off tomatoes. Never ketchup tomato soup, or things made with tomatoes like spag sauce, but I still remember as late as 16 tears of age ordering a Whopper hamburger sandwich with extra mayo and pickles, but hold the tomatoes. Half of the meals my mother served every week would lead off with a salad, which in my case was just a bowl of lettuce. I was into French dressing at the time and remember using so much, the leafs of lettuce seemed to float in a pool of French dressing. Shortly thereafter I discovered 1000 Island dressing and it was at least 20 years before I went near a bottle of French dressing again. One day, I was around 18, something snapped and I began to order my Whopper hamburger sandwiches with tomato, put some slices of tomato on a grilled cheese, and welcomed back the tomato to keep the lettuce company in my salad dish. It was one of those things, I got over it, and now I've moved on (currently in an avocado stage).

     As the blues developed from a blend of Caucasian Southern folk tunes and some bits of remembered African ritual dances, “blues dancing” broke out in the early 20th century, some slow like a tango and others bouncing up and down and screaming with excitement. Eventually a slow and intimate blues dancing emerged. After reading this most boring column, lettuce dancing would seem appropriate. And, encouraged.


Bleeker, C. J. 1956 Die Gerburt eines Gottes. Lieden: Brill.

Chomel, P-J-B. 1782. Abrégé de l'Hoistoire des Plantes Usuelles. Paris: Librairies Associés.

Gunther, R. T., ed. 1934. The Greek Herbal of Discorides. Oxford: Oxford University Press. A reprint of The Materia Mecica of Dioscorides. Englished by John Goodyear, 1655.

Harlan, Jack R. 1986. “Lettuce and the Sycamore: Sex and Romance in Ancient Egypt.” Economic Botany, Published by: Springer on behalf of New York Botanical Garden Press. 40, 1: 4-15.

Leclerc, L. 1874. Kachef er-Roumouz ou Traité de Matiere Médicale Arabe. Paris: Balillère et Fils.

Scotti, G. 1872. Flora Medica della Province di Como. Como, Italy: Carlo Frańchi.

Vignes, H. 1932. "L'emploi de la laitue en pratique gynécoogique." J. Practiciens. 24 Sept: 633-634.

Wissow, G. and W. Kroll. 1925. Paulys Real-Enclopädie Classichen Alterumswissenschaft. Stuttgart: Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

I don't have to pick from bitter to Iceberg, we have Boston Lettuce (or 'butterhead' and 'Bibb') grown locally,

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