At first appearance, young sword leaf lettuce is a a pretty ordinary little loose leaf lettuce. But it is far from the ordinary salad green. It is a resilient cool weather crop; a plant of many names and many uses.
With very little effort I have grown plenty of delicious sword leaf salads over the last few seasons. The texture is similar to familiar green leaf lettuce with a much stronger, and dare I say better flavor. I harvest it young and use the small tender leaves as the #1 salad bowl filler from our gardens. In fall and early spring it outperforms all of the other lettuce varieties that I grow.
I do not use covers to protect my tender greens in late winter/early spring, so I plant plenty of variety and hope for decent weather. Sometimes we are lucky, but this year the weather has been extreme. In the last few weeks we have had some 80 degree days and some 30 degree nights. If it weren’t for our faithful sword leaves, we wouldn’t have any salad to pick.
I planted a 4ft x 6ft section of a raised bed in late January with a mix of lettuce left over from my fall plantings. The only greens that have survived are a handful of spinach and seemingly all of the sword leaf lettuce. These greens are super survivors that have tollerated both freezing and scorching temperatures.
I would devote a blog post to these leaves just because of their incredible resilience and contribution to the salad bowl, but they have much more to offer than just salad filler. These greens are also fabulous cooked! If the thought of cooked lettuce is off-putting to you, I completely understand. I can’t stand the thought of a charred limp butter lettuce either, even though wilted and cooked lettuces have been the trend lately. Sword leaf lettuce is quite different than other lettuce when cooked. It is very much like cooked Choy greens and is known to many people as AA Choy. I enjoyed it for lunch today in a Quick and Easy Vegetable Lo Mein. The greens were tender, delicious and a perfect addition to my dish.
When I started researching Sword leaf/AA Choy and all of it’s uses, I discovered many names for this Lettuce: Yu Mai Tsai, AA Chop Xin, “A” Lettuce, Stem Lettuce, Celtuce, Wosun, Celery Lettuce, and simply “A”.
When allowed to mature and bolt these dainty salad greens turn into large plants with thick stalks. The mature plants are trimmed and the lower leaves removed before being sold in Asian markets as AA Choy or Celtuce. The stalks of the mature plants can be pealed and thinly sliced for use in salads. They have a crunchy texture and celery like flavor. The sliced stems can also be used to add a nutty flavor to soups and stews.
There seem to be endless possibilities for the use of this plant. It can add delicious flavors and great texture to many raw or cooked dishes. It is of far greater culinary value than typical loose leaf lettuce.
The ease of growing sword leaf lettuce combined with it’s culinary versatility should earn this plant of many names a place in every backyard garden.
- Direct sow in late summer for fall harvest or late winter/early spring for spring harvest.
- To grow mature plants for harvesting stalks, plant in late winter and allow plants to mature and bolt in late spring.
- Keep well watered and plants will tolerate some heat and cold.
- Only 53 days to harvest for salad greens
- Seeds are currently available through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange