“Lettuce has been harvested for millennia—it was depicted by ancient Egyptians on the walls of tombs dating back to at least 2,700 B.C. The earliest version of the greens resembled two modern lettuces: romaine, from the French word “romaine” (from Rome), and cos lettuce, believed to have been found on the island of Kos, located along the coast of modern day Turkey.
But in Ancient Egypt around 2,000 B.C., lettuce was not a popular appetizer, it was an aphrodisiac, a phallic symbol that represented the celebrated food of the Egyptian god of fertility, Min. (It is unclear whether the lettuce’s development in Egypt predates its appearance on the island of Kos.) The god, often pictured with an erect penis in wall paintings and reliefs was also known as the “great of love” as he is called in a text from Edfu Temple. The plant was believed to help the god ‘perform the sexual act untiringly’.
Salima Ikram, Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo who specializes in Ancient Egyptian food explains Min’s part in lettuce history. ‘Over 3,000 years, [Min’s] role did change, but he was constantly associated with lettuce,’ she says.
‘One of the reasons why [the Egyptians] associated the lettuce with Min was because it grows straight and tall—an obvious phallic symbol,’ Ikram says. ‘But if you broke off a leaf it oozed a sort of white-ish, milky substance—basically it looked like semen.'”
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