Chinese Stem Lettuce
Chinese Stem Lettuce is grown sometimes for its leaves, but it is best known for its tall tender stems, which are mild to slightly bitter, and used in stir fries and soups. Also known as Celtuce, it is endemic to China, and some say it was introduced to China from the Mediterranean sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries. Most sources claim that W. Atlee Burpee introduced “Celtuce” (etymology = celery + lettuce) to the US in 1942 from a strain brought back by a missionary. William Woys Weaver credits Mennonite plant collector Jacob B. Garber of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who published an article called “Hoo Sung” in 1854 about the joys of growing and eating this very vegetable. It is known now in China as “Wosun”. In English it is sometimes called Asparagus Lettuce as many peel off the tough, bitter skin and cook the inner core like asparagus.
Try this: Peel and julienne the fresh stems. Fry garlic and ginger in vegetable oil, and add to a mixture of sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar. Add salt and serve at room temperature.
Days to maturity: 55-70
Seeds per pack: 200
Planting / harvesting notes
Seed every 1" in rows 8-12" apart, 1/4-1/2" deep. Keep watered until germination. Thin to every 8". Harvest for eating when the stems are at least 8-12" tall and just before flowering.
Seed keeping notes
Lettuce is very much self-pollinating, but give at least 10 feet between plants (we give at least 35 feet) to avoid unwanted cross-pollination from flying insects. Allow the plants to bolt and flower. Often, flowering lettuce benefits from simple staking (we tie several plants together) so that the flowers and seedheads do not fall to the ground. Seed is ripe when the flowers turn to 'feathers', which are fluff balls like dandelions. In the moist summers of Pennsylvania, we harvest the entire seedheads when at least 50% of the plant has gone to seed. If there are dry days in the forcast, feel free to wait longer for more ripe seed. Cut the seedheads a few feet down, and allow to dry about a week in a sunny dry place like a greenhouse, sunny window, or even a car seat. Later, wearing a handkerchief or mask to avoid breathing in the feathers and dust, bang the seedheads in a bucket allowing the seed to fall to the bottom. The ripest seeds fall, the least ripe stay in the plant, so do not over do it. Sift through strainers to remove the large chaff, and then use your breath, a fan, or the wind to carefully blow off the smaller dust.