Celtuce, also known as stem lettuce or wosun, is a zero waste leafy green vegetable that is a cross between celery and lettuce. Here’s how to grow it from seed.
Celtuce (Lactuca sativa var. angustana), also known as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, Chinese lettuce, asparagus lettuce, or qingsun or wosun, is an annual leafy green vegetable that is a cross between celery and lettuce. It’s a zero waste plant where the leaves are picked and used instead of lettuce and the stem is used as a substitute for celery.
I discovered celtuce in summer 2019 during a visit to Paddy’s Markets in Sydney where they sell a wide range of Asian vegetables. I bought one and took it home. The leaves were withered and didn’t look appetising at all but the I cooked the stem and it was delicious. Since growing my own, celtuce leaves have become my go-to alternative to lettuce.
How to Grow Celtuce
Celtuce is a hardy annual that is easy to grow however it does require a degree of patience. It can be sown direct or raised as seedlings. For temperate climates such as Sydney, sow 6mm deep in well-drained soil which is rich in organic materials during autumn, summer and spring. It takes 3 to 7 days to germinate when the temperatures are between 4 and 22°C. It can be grown in full sun or part shade and takes 90 days to reach maturity.
This is a large edible so if you’re planting more than one, space them at least 30 cm apart and allow 50cm row spacing. It also pays to succession plant as it grows large leaves and cramming it into a small space isn’t advised as it needs proper ventilation.
Celtuce Plant Care
Celtuce is a low maintenance edible. Much like rocket, it favours moist soil, and like lettuce, needs frequent watering. It doesn’t require additional fertiliser if you’ve prepared your soil beforehand and added organic materials such as compost and cow manure, the latter being high in nitrogen.
Pests and diseases have been relatively scarce though it can attract slugs and snails in the wet, the odd aphid or two and other sap suckers. Later in the season, the leaves may show white specs on the leaves which is damage from whitefly, a sucking insect, but they’re still good to eat.
Harvesting & Seed Saving
Celtuce is a cut-and-come-again plant which means you can harvest the outer leaves starting from the bottom and the plant will continue to grow. Once it reaches 30-40cm in height, the stems are ready and the whole plant can be harvested – a zero waste plant well worth having in the garden.
I’ve grown celtuce in a raised garden bed and in a large deep trough container and both have done well. The ones from the raised bed grew massive and reached my height (1.5m) before they bolted. It may have something to do with using cow manure in that bed which gave it a high nitrogen intake.
When the plants bolt, the leaves are surprisingly not too bitter but you should harvest the stems as soon as possible as they can turn woody. Alternatively, if you’re into seed saving, you can leave the plant to flower then turn to seed.
Tips for Growing Celtuce
- If you’re growing celtuce in a tiny garden,don;t be tempted to cram as many plants together as you can. Allow it the spacing it needs and it will reward you with long, lush green leaves and a thick stem.
- As the plant grows and the leaves grow, you may need to tied it together at the base as in a photo above.
- Celtuce is a thirsty plant so make sure you water it deeply and consistently.
Culinary Uses of Celtuce
Celtuce leaves can be enjoyed raw in salads, or cooked in stir fries, quiches, soups and stews. As for the stem, wash it then peel it before use. It can be sliced thinly into discs and eaten raw, sliced into rounds like a cucumber and topped with your favourite topping steamed, and stir fried along with the leaves with garlic, ginger and oyster sauce.
It’s always best to pick the leaves in the morning to consume on the same day but they also store well in the crisper section of the fridge or in an airtight plastic container.
Celtuce in Cocktails
If you’re into drinking your greens, the stem as well as the leaves can be juiced, or like kale, used in a smoothie. Celtuce juice can also be used in cocktails. It adds a savoury and vegetal note which is enhanced if you use salt in cocktails. It complements white spirits such as gin, vodka, aquavit, tequila and mezcal even white rum and cachaca. Try it in a Bloody Mary with a celery salt rim, in a Martini style cocktail with a saline spray, in a Gimlet or a riff on the Southside.
CELTUCE GROWING GUIDE AT A GLANCE
For temperate climate (Sydney, Australia)
- Sowing Season: spring, summer, autumn
- Sowing Method: sow direct or raise seedlings
- Position: full sun or part shade
- Seed Preparation: nil
- Soil: well drained soil
- Sowing Depth: 6mm
- Plant Spacing: 30 cm
- Row Spacing: 50cm
- Plant Height: 30 cm
- Germination: 3 to 7 days
- Time to Maturity/Harvest: 90 days
- Water Requirements: moist soil, water frequently
- Fertiliser Requirements: favours nitrogen
- Companion Planting: beetroot, carrots, beans, onions, parsnip, radish, strawberries
- Ones to Avoid: parsley
- Succession Planting: every 30 days