How To Prepare The Plant
The lettuces most potent component is the milky sap from the stem.
Wild lettuce was traditionally harvested by making incisions in the stalks, allowing the sap to ooze out, and then drying them.
The dried juice would be gathered.
Its a time-consuming and physically demanding procedure. You might simply consume the leaves fresh. Theyre extremely nutritious .
However, you wont receive a very concentrated dosage this way. Youd be better off using one of the methods below.
Identification And Regions In Which Wild Lettuce Grows
The wild lettuce plant typically grows about 200cm high. It can be found growing in areas such as, grassy road sides, banks near the sea, through cracks in sidewalks, and vacant lots . The leaves of the main body of the plant extend from about 6 to 18 inches in length. The leaves near the center/apex of the plant are more vertical and are much shorter.
Multiple flowering occurs on a single plant. The small yellow flowers are about 1/4 inch in diameter and the plant usually blossoms from July to September. Later in this cycle, the plant will produce a black fruit with a wide wing on the edge. Then the top of the fruit will extend into a long white beak carrying a silvery cluster of hair.
Identifying Wild Lettuce In Nature
This plant is known as a relative of lettuce, which we usually eat in salads.
The plant itself is biennial, so it takes two full years to accomplish the biological life cycle.
If you are already planning to grow it on your vegetable patch, keep in mind that some sorts may grow up to 80 inches tall! Do not worry. Not each plant is meant to reach this size, but one thing it will surely have is its thick stems with flushed purple leaves. They are easy to recognize, having a broad, oval shape and jagged contours.
North America is in bloom mainly between July and September and is distinguished by nice yellow round-shaped flowers reminding of dandelions. And the plants medicinal features root in its stem with sticky and milky sap.
Want to learn more on how to sort out wild Lactuca? Have a look at the video below.
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Dosage And Side Effects
As far as making any of the above DIY wild lettuce recipes, the information on the particular dosages are somewhat lacking or ambiguous when it comes to the tinctures and extracts. This is something that the user will have to experiment with and if it were me, Id start with very small dosages and slowly work up to achieve the optimum results.
These 2 links give some insight into some different dosages for different applications:
It is suggested that between 30 and 60 drops of tincture can be used per day.
How Do You Use It
Wild lettuce can be used to make an infusion, a tincture or can be dried smoked as well. You can find dried wild lettuce online if you prefer to purchase it already prepared. You can also purchase the tincture in a commercial preparation if you prefer to go that route.
Since I prefer to go the DIY route, I purchased some seeds for planting myself. The seeds are fairly hard to sprout and can take some time to sprout into seedlings. They usually germinate in 10-20 days, however if the soil temperature is too warm they wont sprout. Considering this, you should start them in early spring or late fall.
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The Wild Lettuce High
Some people claim to experience a wild lettuce high after taking wild lettuce. This is due to the perceived pain relief properties of wild lettuce.
Many people may experience a high using a number of pain relievers. As with any pain reliever, using wild lettuce to get high is certainly unwise.
That said, this is why you hear about people smoking wild lettuce.
Wild Lettuce: History Origin And Folklore
There are some who believe that the first known wild lettuce appeared dating back at least to 4500 BC.
Wild Lettuce is purported to be native to Europe and in particular, east and southeast England. However, it is also claimed that it is indigenous to the Himalayan region of India.
Warning: The painting below is a bit explicit and is probably not suitable for younger viewers.
A painted relief depicting the Egyptian god Min with wild lettuce on the lower left
It is claimed that the ancient Egyptians grew and harvested wild lettuce at least as far back as 4500+ years ago according to hieroglyphic evidence. There are depictions of the Egyptian god Min with what is alleged to be a wild lettuce plant in many of the hieroglyphs. The plant was said to have been used for aphrodisiac purposes. It is also claimed that the Egyptians had a book that was used for aphrodisiac potions. Its been suggested that many of the recipes included wild lettuce.
The renowned Greek physician Hippocrates wrote texts in reference to prescribing wild lettuce for its healing and sedative properties as far back as 430 BC.
In contrast to the Ancient Egyptians findings and usage, Pliny the Elder , who was a Roman author, a naturalist and philosopher, wrote about how this herb could diminish sexual desire. He also wrote on its effects as remedy for, fever, stomach problems and its ability to increase blood flow.
Title page to Materia Medica
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What Is Wild Lettuce Tea
Wild lettuce is the common name of Lactuca virosa, a plant native to Central Europe and North Asia that has now spread to North America and other parts of Europe. Wild lettuce tea is made from the dried leaves of this plant, and its powerful sedative properties have earned it the name lettuce opium. When used in moderate quantities, it can bestow a number of anxiolytic and nervine properties but is not recommended to be used in excess as a means to alter consciousness.
From A Wild Specimen To A Commercial Crop
Wild lettuce is very closely related to the typical lettuce crop we buy from supermarkets today. It was believed to have been first used as a leafy vegetable by the Egyptians, and has since been cultivated and developed around the world as popular leafy green.
As wild lettuce was bred as a commercial crop for food, varieties with a sweeter flavoring were generally preferred. These were mixed and cultivated until the slight bitter flavoring of wild lettuce disappeared completely.
The chemicals which gave wild lettuce its bitter taste, were the components responsible for its medicinal value. So today, your average iceberg lettuce will no longer be able to soothe anxiety or treat pain.
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How I Grow Wild Lettuce
I grew them the first year in pots, so I could tend to them better and didnt have the pain of weeds to deal with. In the late fall I transplanted them to the garden where they did well over the winter, and it wasnt cold enough to harm them.
This spring they were healthy and as soon as the weather warmed they started to grow tall and produced flowering heads. Once the flowers open they will be ready to harvest and the lactucin levels will be at the most potent. Note how these plants shot up to over 6 feet tall in the second year. For comparison, I am 59 and they are a bit taller than I am.
The plants are biennial and grow in a rosette close to the ground in the first year. In the second year they will bolt and produce the flowering heads and seeds as seen in the above photo.
Wild Lettuce Tea Benefits
The best health benefits of wild lettuce tea include its ability to soothe pain, reduce anxiety, and eliminate respiratorydistress, among others. These leaves contain a unique composition of triterpenes, volatile acids, and antioxidants, including lactucic acid and various alkaloids. These components are able to impact the hormonal system, while also delivering anti-inflammatory benefits to the body. The analgesic qualities of these leaves, combined with their anxiolytic effects on the nervous system, make it an ideal nighttime tea. Many people use it before they sleep to ensure restful and uninterrupted sleep, and overcome symptoms of insomnia.
Wild lettuce has sedative and analgesic properties, according to research studies. Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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Latuca Virosa For Recreation
Since this plant is non-addictive and harmless, it can be used in modest doses to recreate and stimulate brain activity, perception, and consciousness, apart from many medicinal advantages .
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How To Extract Wild Lettuce Resin
Making extracts is a simple procedure, but you must be cautious not to overheat the plant.
The active components are susceptible to heat.
If the mixture ever comes to a boil or becomes coated with bubbles on the bottom of the pan, the active components in wild lettuce will be ruined.
How To Extract Wild Lettuce Resin
If you want to learn more about making the extract, have a look at this video from the Lost Ways team.
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Can It Provide Pain Relief
Wild lettuce extract, or lactucarium, has long been used to relieve pain.
Lactucarium contains lactucin and lactucopicrin, bitter substances that act on the central nervous system to produce pain-relieving and sedative effects .
These compounds are considered sesquiterpene lactones, a group of beneficial substances most concentrated in plants belonging to the Asteraceae family such as lettuce, calendula, and chicory .
In fact, sesquiterpene lactones make up a large part of the lactucarium secreted by wild lettuce.
While many natural healthcare companies and homeopathic websites promote wild lettuce as a pain treatment, scientific evidence is lacking.
Few studies in humans have examined wild lettuce and pain relief, though some animal studies suggest that the compounds in wild lettuce extract may have pain-relieving properties.
For example, a study in mice demonstrated that at doses of 7 and 13.5 mg per pound of body weight, lactucin and lactucopicrin combined had comparable pain-relieving effects as 30 mg of ibuprofen .
However, animal studies on the pain-relieving properties of wild lettuce are limited, and more research needs to be done that includes humans.
Though wild lettuce has been used since ancient times to treat pain, very little evidence supports its use in humans.
Wild lettuce is promoted as a natural treatment for a variety of conditions aside from pain, such as:
- urinary infections
Studies indicate that wild lettuce can harm your health (
Top Ways To Use Lettuce For Survival
All the above-mentioned medical-related uses of this plant are also good for survival. But that is not it yet. We want to show you how useful stockpiling Lactuca Virosa can actually be. During the so-called barter economy, people would trade precious metals and valuable goods, including edible and healing Lactuca. So, in times of TEOTWAWKI or SHTF, this product will be in great necessity thanks to its nutritional, medicinal, and digestive values.
In such cases, cultivating, processing, and exchanging this plant and its related products may be a reasonable means of making a living .
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Benefits Of Wild Lettuce
Aside from pain, wild lettuce is commonly used as a natural therapy for a range of ailments, including:
- Rheumatism and Aching joints
- ADHD and hyperactivity in children
Youll find 800+ beneficial plants and remedies in The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies.
It includes recipes of tinctures, teas, decoctions, essential oils, syrups, salves, poultices, infusions and many other natural remedies that our grandparents used for centuries.
Whats also special about this book is that it has between 2 and 4 high definition, color pictures for each plant and detailed identification guidelines to make sure youve got the right plant.
What Is The Active Chemical In Wild Lettuce
Wild lettuce exudes a milky latex when the stem is broken or leaves are removed from the plant. This latex contains the chemical constituents that we want to collect to use for medicinal purposes. The latex contains a substance known as lactucin. Lactucin is a bitter substance that has been found to have analgesic and sedative properties in the lab.
There are very few human studies, and scant animal studies on the effects of wild lettuce. The few studies did suggest that there may be pain relieving properties, as our ancestors believed, but more studies are needed.
This is the substance that has been used since Ancient Egypt as a pain reliever and sleep aid. Another name for wild lettuce is opium lettuce. This was its main use in the US and its pain-relieving properties were believed to be similar to opium. Its use appears to have begun as early as 1799 in the US as a substitute when opium was not available. It fell out of favor at one time, but it made a comeback in the 1970s when it was promoted to use for its mild euphoric effects and relative safety compared to opioid drugs. It does not have the deleterious effects on the digestive tract as opioid drugs and is not addictive.
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When To Harvest Wild Lettuce
Gardeners know that domestic lettuce produces a milky sap once its gone to seed . Thats the point it turns bitter and starts putting every last bit of its energy into defending itself from predators as it tries to produce the next generation.
Wild lettuce is no different, and the best time to harvest it is right around the time of flowering. In the northern hemisphere, that happens in July and August.
Up here in Vermont, I saw the first flowers open the last week of July, and the plants will continue to mature in different locations through August. I harvested one plant down to the base early in the season, and about a week later it already has side shoots that are 8 inches high. I expect I may be able to re-harvest from the same plant later this year, hopefully doubling the yield.
Wild lettuce is a biennial, meaning that it flowers at the end of its second year of life. In the first year, the plant focuses on establishing itself and only produces a low-growing rosette of leaves.
The full flower stalk isnt produced until the second year. Keep that in mind if you identify young plants, or if youre planning on growing wild lettuce from seed.
Wild Lettuce Seedling in its first summer of growth.
Where Does Wild Lettuce Grow
Places such as North America, South America, India, Australia, and Central/Southern Europe can adequately support wild lettuce harvesting.
Native Americans have used it for a natural pain-killing remedy and other medicinal uses. Most of the northwestern part of the US, like Washington and Oregon, see wild lettuce in abundance.
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How To Make Tea
As mentioned, wild lettuce tea prepared from the dried leaves is unlikely to offer you pain relief. The leaves are low in the active compounds, and these, in turn, dont dissolve well in water .
Still, some people like to drink it just for the taste or to soothe gut inflammation .
If youre among them, you can use 1-2 teaspoons of the dried leaves to make tea. Pour boiling water over the leaves, let steep for 5-10 minutes, and strain into a cup.
Side Effects & Safety
Keep in mind that the safety profile of wild lettuce is practically unknown, given the lack of well-designed clinical studies. The list of side effects below is not a definite one and you should consult your doctor about other potential side effects based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.
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About As Appealing As Burnt Lettuce
Many doctors are trying to move away from prescribing opioids for chronic pain in response to the addiction and overdose crisis, and there’s been little evidence gathered about the health outcomes for people who are on opioids for longer than a year. There’s good debate going on about what doctors should use instead. Physical therapy? Plain old Tylenol? Smoked wild lettuce, however, shouldn’t make the list.
A version of this story originally appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Pacific Standard.
How To Use Wild Lettuce For Survival
If you have just heard about Wild Lettuce you might be asking yourself what in the world is wild opium lettuce and why should I even pay the slightest bit of attention to it?
Wild Lettuce has quite a few unique properties which may lead you to ask additional questions Is it safe? How can you identify it? How do you prepare it?
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