Celtuce – What Is This Plant That Is Underrated Compared To Lettuce?

Celtuce may not be so common in the United States, but it’s a popular ingredient of many Asian dishes. It goes by many names, stem lettuce, Chinese lettuce, celery lettuce, and asparagus lettuce. As evident by the terms, celtuce is, in fact, a unique variety of lettuce.

We grow lettuce for its leaves, while celtuce is primarily grown for its crispy, fleshy stems. So what the celtuce plant is, where does it grow, and how is it used? This post will tell you all about these intriguing vegetables!

Different from the typical lettuce, celtuce tastes more like celery and lettuce combined. As we mentioned, it’s cultivated for its juicy stem, but both the stem and leaves are edible.

You can eat the plant is still raw, but cooking with light seasoning brings out its nutty flavor. Pickled, baked, grilled, or stir-fried, it brings a lovely nutty flavor to any recipe you add it to, leaving a unique, slightly smoky aftertaste.

Common NameCeltuce, Stem Lettuce, Chinese Lettuce, Celery Lettuce, Asparagus Lettuce
Botanical NameLactuca Sativa Var. Augustana
Plant TypeAn Annual
Plant Size (Fully Grown)Height Of 7,8 To 10 Inches (About 20 To 25 cm)
Sun ExposureFull Sun And Partial Shade In Warmer Climates
Soil TypeA Nutrient-Rich Sandy Loam That Drains Well Is Optimal For Celtuce
Soil pHFrom 6.0 To 6.5
Flower ColorYellow
U.S. Hardiness Zones4, 5, 6, 7, 8 And 9
Native AreaMediterranean Region

How Many Types Of Celtuce Are There?

Celtuce is itself a variety of lettuce (Lactuca sativa). You won’t find many different cultivars under the name Lactuca sativa var. Augustana.

Celtuce seeds are typically sold as a generic variety, and the specific type isn’t mentioned. Following are some of the cultivars of celtuce you may find, especially in online stores:

Max Green – It matures in 85 days and is cold tolerant.

Spring Tower – Broad leafed and cold tolerant.

Balady Aswan – Matures in 90 to 100 days.

Summer 38 – The variety is heat and cold tolerant and can be planted in spring, summer, or fall.

Purple Sword – Best for chilly climate, with temperatures between 60 to 70°F (about 15,5 to 21°C).

Origins And History Of The Celtuce Plant

You may only have come across it recently, but celtuce isn’t a new vegetable on planet earth. Though the exact origins are unknown, it is believed to have come from the Mediterranean region, where it has existed for over 1500 years.

From the Mediterranean, it traveled to China, becoming widely popular during the Tang Dynasty, around 600 to 900 AD. It is being cultivated and sold in Asian grocery stores for a long time, where you’ll still find the vegetable under the names “wosun” and “qingsun.”

Journey To The States

Though celtuce appeared quite early in the United States, it did not gather much attention until recently. Under the name asparagus lettuce, Seed packets became available in the United States in 1890 but weren’t very popular.

Fifty years later, the vegetable was again promoted by the Burpee Seed Company, and with success this time! They received Lactuca sativa var. augustana seeds from an American missionary serving in China and renamed it celtuce. The name celtuce highlights its resemblance to both celery and lettuce in taste and appearance. Celtuce seeds from Burpee became available in the United States market in 1942.

Where Is It Available Today?

Today, celtuce is commonly available in vegetable stores in Asia, especially China and Taiwan. They’re not as common in the United States and Europe, but you can still spot them in Asian markets and specialty grocery stores.

What Does Celtuce Look Like?

Celtuce is a lettuce variety and a member of the Asteraceae family. Butterhead lettuce, romaine lettuce, chicory, and artichokes are also members of the same family. These celery-like vegetables are grown mainly for their flesh stalks, unlike lettuce, which is grown for its leaves.

The plant itself looks much like romaine lettuce resting on top of a long, thick stem. The white stalk is like a broccoli stalk, with a few small pale green leaves on top that look quite like the regular lettuce.

Depending on the variety, celtuce usually reaches a height of up to 10 to 20 inches (about 25 – 51 cm) when it’s mature. Since it has a shallow root system, just like all other lettuce varieties, it is an excellent container plant.

Leaves

The few small, tender, pale green leaves that grow upright from the stalk are very like the regular lettuce and are edible. You can start harvesting the young leaves 4 to 5 weeks after planting the seeds, and the stalks continue to grow.

The older leaves tend to be bitter, and they are usually removed at the time of harvest. Celtuce leaves can be consumed raw in salads but are more commonly steamed or stir-fried and served quite the same way as spinach.

© Ksanask – stock.adobe.com

Stalk

The plump, juicy stalk is the main attraction of the celtuce plant. The thick, whitish stems have a woody skin, pretty like the stem of broccoli. Once you peel the outer skin, the pale green flesh that gets revealed looks much like a cucumber, without the seeds.

Broccoli on the outside, cucumber on the inside; might be a proper way to describe this plant. And this plant is typically harvested once it’s about 6 – 8 inches (about 15 – 20 cm) long and has a diameter of 1 – 2 inches (about 3 to 5 cm). The central stalk is crispy and juicy, kind of like the taste of celery and asparagus combined.

After you’ve peeled the outer skin, you can add the juicy interior to salads, for example. You can also serve them steamed, grilled, or stir-fried like most other vegetables. They work well in soups as an alternative to celery, for example.

Flowers

The goal is to harvest the plant before it starts to flower since bolting turns the stem woody and bitter, sometimes even hollow. So you’ll rarely see any flowering during the growing season, especially if everything goes smoothly.

Under certain conditions, the plant produces small yellow flowers that bear fruits and seeds for propagation.

What Growth Conditions Does Celtuce Need To Grow Well?

Celtuce may look intimidating, given its unusual looks, but it’s a hardy plant and pretty straightforward to grow in home gardens. Though it’s a cool-season crop, it’s tolerant to both hot and cold climates. They’re grown much in the same way as lettuce, but you should know a few things before adding them to your vegetable garden.

What Is The Ideal Temperature For Growing Celtuce?

The ideal growing temperature is between 55 to 70°F (about 12,7 to 21°C), but it can also tolerate some frost. Even if you live in a warmer climate, you can try your luck with growing celtuce since it’s quite a hardy variety. As a general rule, if lettuce grows well in your region, celtuce will thrive too.

If you live in a northern climate, sow the seeds directly to the garden somewhere in mid-spring. Also, if you live in a warmer climate, plant it in autumn for a winter harvest.

Depending on the variety, celtuce can take anywhere between 50 to 100 days to mature. Try to choose the best planting time according to your climate, so the temperature stays within the ideal range during the growing season.

Soil And Sun

Choose a spot with full sun that has well-drained, fertile soil. Light sandy loam works best for growing celtuce. If you live in a warm climate, leaves may wilt with too much exposure to direct sun. In such regions, plant celtuce in partial shade or cover the crop to protect it from the direct afternoon sun.

Water And Fertilizer

Celtuce needs consistent moisture to produce those fleshy stalks. Water the plant regularly, and don’t let the soil dry out. Avoid drenching the leaves while watering to prevent them from getting any diseases. Spread a few layers of mulch, hay, straw, leaves, or other organic matter around the plants to maintain moisture and keep weeds and pests at bay.

Supplemental fertilization isn’t typically needed if you’re growing celtuce in a garden bed well amended with compost. The plant has a very short growing season and will be ready for harvest well before it has used all the nutrients in the soil. But, if you notice slow growth, you may apply a dilute dose of some good organic liquid fertilizer.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Celtuce?

Rich in Vitamin C and manganese, celtuce is a good source of many essential nutrients. Let’s find out if there are any conditions in which its use should be avoided or controlled.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Celtuce is rich in fibers, Vitamin C, and folates, making it a very healthy vegetable for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Children

Celtuce is a good source of fibers and nutrients for children. There isn’t much information on whether you can include it in your baby’s diet, so be careful and ask a pediatrician before feeding it to your baby.

People With Allergies

Celtuce isn’t a common allergen, but still, lettuce allergies do exist. If you’re sensitive to lettuce, you may want to avoid all its varieties, including celtuce.

People With Diabetes

People with diabetes are encouraged to eat fiber-rich foods, and celtuce is one of them. It also has a low glycemic index, making it a suitable addition to regular meals for people with diabetes.

Pets

The mature plant is mildly toxic. While your pets can consume them in small amounts, offering large quantities may pose potential risks.

Featured image credit – © pat – stock.adobe.com

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