Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an annual plant of the aster or sunflower family Asteraceae. It is most often grown as a leaf vegetable, but sometimes for its stem and seeds. Lettuce was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians who turned it from a weed, whose seeds were used to produce oil, into a plant grown for its leaves. Lettuce spread to the Greeks and Romans, the latter of whom gave it the name 'lactuca', from which the English 'lettuce' is ultimately derived. By 50 AD, multiple types were described, and lettuce appeared often in medieval writings, including several herbals. The 16th through 18th centuries saw the development of many varieties in Europe, and by the mid-18th century cultivars were described that can still be found in gardens.
Contributions by Bridgeplayer, SB Johnny, and David Shankbone.