Alternative leafy greens when lettuces are expensive or unavailable

Alternative leafy greens when lettuces are expensive or unavailable

The recent heavy rain events created havoc with vegetable production around Auckland. Lettuces @$7 each and a broccoli head @$4.50 each tell a sad story for veggie eating in Auckland now. As the weather gets colder plants grow more slowly so high prices could be around for a while.

Our own lettuce crop was munched heavily by caterpillars so there’s less in the garden here too. The next generation is growing – slowly, but caterpillar-free now.

Time to look for alternatives!

Other salad greens we can ‘forage’ from our garden include

  • Young dandelion leaves,
  • Endive,
  • Rocket,
  • Coriander,
  • Chervil,
  • Mizuna,
  • ‘Miners Lettuce’,
  • Herb Robert,
  • Gotu kola,
  • Corn Salad [also called Lambs Lettuce],
  • Watercress,
  • Parsley,
  • Chicory
  • Nasturtiums,
  • Mustard greens,
  • And more.


There’s quite a range to choose from. These appear in autumn/winter by themselves so when lettuce becomes scarce, I go searching for other options and am pleased to find a range to supplement our salads.

In colder weather these alternatives can be sweet and nice to eat. In warm weather they become bitter so if you like juicy, sweet salads, choose young, new leaves and enjoy them in cooler weather.

Many of us may not have used these lettuce alternatives  before. I had to learn to look beyond the ‘iceberg lettuce’ which was all we had in my childhood. Now is a good time to explore these to replace expensive lettuces.

One of our main alternatives is endive. We have 2 varieties self-seed and in cool weather they give lovely sweet frilly leaves – these have become a staple for salads.


Other alternatives to lettuce

We use sprouts more when leafy greens are expensive or hard to grow.

Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for lettuce alternatives.



Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties.


2014-11-24 08.28.04
Sprouts from top left to right – soybeans x2, lentils, mung beans; then below are more lentils [I use different varieties] and alfalfa

Interested in our easy ways to grow and use sprouts? More info – here.



Another alternative to lettuce for salads is micro-greens.

Micro-greens = ‘small greens’ I suppose.

Micro-greens growing well
Assorted micro-greens growing well in punnets 

We experimented with growing an assortment of micro-greens – alfalfa, red clover, lentils, peas.


micro-greens beginning to grow
micro-greens beginning to grow


We used shallow punnets of potting mix/mulch and sowed seed thickly on the surface, then sprinkled a little more covering over the top. We watered them well and placed them in a warm spot. These are in a sheltered space on our patio facing northeast [a sunny spot here in Auckland].

This collection began as a very mixed collection of ‘whatever seeds I had’ and included alfalfa, red clover, lentils, mung beans, peas.

They grew at different rates so we could snip off something over a long period. After snipping the green tops above the bottom leaves, many regrew and gave a 2nd harvest.

I think I prefer growing sprouts –  easier, less mess, more return for the effort. But I wouldn’t have known this if I’d not experimented and grown some micro-greens. You might prefer these types of greens – you never know until you try.


Other alternatives

Asian greens are another good crop to plant now – they grow fast even in cooler weather.

  • Mizuna,
  • Pea shoots
  • Mustard greens
  • Water spinach [Kang kong]
  • Chinese celery
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Bok choy
  • And many more!

Some are nice raw and others we prefer cooked, usually in a stir-fry.


A final thought as to how we use these ‘lettuce alternatives’ sometimes:

Here’s how we put together ‘lettuce wraps‘ – with everything other than lettuces too!


I hope you have a greater range of options for lovely salads in the cooler weather – even when lettuces are expensive!

Or maybe you like to experiment and try different tastes – there are many to explore.

Have fun and enjoy the exploration



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