Lactuca virosa–Wild Lettuce
Family: Compositae or Asteraceae
Other names: Lettuce Opium,
Habitat: Europe, including Britain, from Belgium south and west to N. Africa, Central Russia and W. Asia. Grassy places by roads, canals etc and on banks near the sea, usually on calcareous soils.
Poisonous. Cases of poisoning caused by this plant have only been recorded very rarely. Reported hallucinogenic properties so may cause dizziness and stomach upsets. The plant should be used with caution, and never without the supervision of a skilled practitioner. Even normal doses can cause drowsiness whilst excess causes restlessness and overdoses can cause death through cardiac paralysis.
Wild Lettuce is a useful medicinal herb. The whole plant is rich in a milky sap that flows freely from any wounds. This hardens and dries when in contact with the air. The sap contains ‘lactucarium’, which is used in medicine for its anodyne, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties. Lactucarium has the effects of a feeble opium, but without its tendency to cause digestive upsets, nor is it addictive. It is taken internally in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, neuroses, hyperactivity in children, dry coughs, whooping cough, rheumatic pain etc. The plant also contains ‘hyoscyamine’, a powerful depressant of the parasympathetic nervous system. An infusion of the fresh or dried flowering plant can also be used. The plant should be used with caution, and never without the supervision of a skilled practitioner. Even normal doses can cause drowsiness whilst excess causes restlessness and overdoses can cause death through cardiac paralysis. The sap has also been applied externally in the treatment of warts. A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant. It is used in the treatment of chronic catarrh, coughs, swollen liver, flatulence and ailments of the urinary tract.
Description of Wild Lettuce:
Lactuca virosa; Wild Lettuce is a ANNUAL/BIENNIAL growing to 1.8 m (6ft).
It is hardy to zone 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. Needs full sun. It prefers moist soil.
Cultivation of Wild Lettuce:
Prefers a light sandy loam and a sunny position. The wild lettuce is cultivated as a medicinal plant in many areas of Europe.
Propagation of Wild Lettuce:
Seed – sow spring or autumn in situ and only just cover the seed. Germination is usually fairly quick.
Collection: The leaves should be gathered in June and July. Concentrations of lactucarium are low in young plants and most concentrated when the plant comes into flower. It is collected commercially by cutting the heads of the plants and scraping the juice into china vessels several times a day until the plant is exhausted. This species is probably the richest supply of lactucarium.
Culinary uses of Wild Lettuce:
Actions: Nervine, anodyne, hypnotic, anti-spasmodic.
Part Used: Dried leaves.
Indications: The latex of the Wild Lettuce was at one time sold as `Lettuce Opium’, naming the use of this herb quite well! It is a valuable remedy for use in insomnia,restlessness and excitability (especially in children) and other manifestations of an overactive nervous system. As an antispasmodic it can be used as part of a holistic treatment of whooping cough and dry irritated coughs in general. It will relieve colic pains in the intestines and uterus and so may be used in dysmenorrhea. It will ease muscular pains related to rheumatism. It has been used as an aphrodisiac.
Preparations & Dosage of Wild Lettuce:
Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the leaves and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.
Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.
Combinations: For irritable coughs it may be used with Wild Cherry Bark. For insomnia it combines with Valerian and Pasque Flower.
Other uses of Wild Lettuce:
Recreational drug use reported.
Esoteric uses of Wild Lettuce:
Divination, lunar magick, sleep, protection, love spells, and male sex magick.
- Lactucin, a sesquiterpene lactone
- Flavonoids; mainly based on quercitin
- Coumarins; cichoriin and aesculin