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Lettuce was once vegie Viagra

Lettuce. What do you think of? Limp, soggy, salad? If you’re feeling a little kinder, maybe crispy, crunchy, refreshing? Chances are that virile, sex machine or aphrodisiac don’t make it high on the list.

Yet, that’s what the Ancient Egyptians used to think of lettuce. A symbol of love, lust and bodily ejaculations.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine blog, today’s salad staple was yesterday’s vegie Viagra.

Around 2000 BC, lettuce was a phallic symbol that represented food of the Egyptian god of fertility Min, so the article says. The plant was believed to help him “perform the sexual act untiringly”.

So, it’s hardly surprising that Min’s the guy in wall paintings and reliefs with an erect penis. You can’t miss him or his generous appendage.

Why lettuce? Why not a wild boar roasting over a fire, or some other symbol of masculinity?

“It grows straight and tall – an obvious phallic symbol,” Salima Ikram, Professor of Egyptology from the American University in Cairo, was quoted as saying.

“But if you broke off a leaf it oozed a sort of white-ish, milky substance – basically it looked like semen.”

There you have it. Lettuce, semen, aphrodisiac. Of course. Should have thought of it myself.

Yet, even with the egyptologist’s explanation, lettuce as an aphrodisiac to my modern mind sounds so unlikely.

Is someone playing a practical joke? Is it an idea dreamt up by the Lettuce Marketing Board?

Only one other food could have served the same function – quiche – much parodied as the food real men don’t eat.

Back to lettuce. My brain does a flip, and images of rabbits take over. Rabbits eat lettuce, or at least they do in Beatrix Potter books.

And how do we describe a couple who are having vigorous sex?

“They’re at it like rabbits.”

The rabbit-lettuce-sex continuum is hurting my head. Maybe there is something in this lettuce-as-sex-symbol thing after all.

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