Tuesday, November 13, 2012
For centuries various types of lettuces were cultivated not only for eating but also for worship and magick. The Ancient Egyptians offered lettuces to Hathor, the cow-shaped goddess of love and music. Her altars were washed with lettuce juice. As a curious aside, her alter-ego (pun intended here), the lioness Sekhmet, sometimes had her altars bathed in the blood of cows.
Old wives would rub lettuce leaves on the foreheads of sleepless children to encourage slumber. Older family members were encouraged to eat lettuce to the same end. Some historians believe that the French culinary habit of serving the salad course just before the end of a meal may have come from this tradition.
Lettuce was also used as a beauty treatment. Lettuce water, probably an infusion much like rose water, was a beauty secret of the English court ladies during the Tudor era. Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford, pictured above, was a Lady in Waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII's unfortunate wives. Lady Guildford was not much admired for her beauty, but her exceptionally luminous and pale skin was the envy of the court. Rumor had it that the secret was rinsing plasters whose ingredients included fresh cow dung off her face and decollete with lettuce water.
The main power attributed to lettuces is over love, lust and self control. Scott Cunningham notes that lettuce of any kind planted in a garden will protect the property. He warns, however, that too much lettuce - how much is too much is not indicated - can cause sterility to descend on the household. He also tells us that lettuce or watercress seeds can be planted in the form of the name of someone whose romantic attentions you wish to attract. If the seeds sprout and grow healthy, so will your relationship with that person.
And so we come back to lettuce as food; specifically, diet food. For centuries, eating lettuces was thought to "cool the blood." Lettuce was on the menu for people with fevers and other infections. This translated to lettuces being able to cool ardor and desire. Thus, lettuce was eaten to calm lust - making it a favorite among the Catholic clergy in times of old - and to help one resist all types of temptation.
On a final note, lettuce, when eaten, was also thought to completely cure seasickness. And that's news to me.
Header: Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford, by Hans Holbein via Wikimedia