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Wild Lettuce

Wild Lettuce

Botanical Description & Habitat

Lactuca virosa


Common names
Acrid lettuce
Poison lettuce
Prickly lettuce

Grows in hedges and ditch sides, and is a very upright, perennial plant. It grows from two to seven feet high with a leafy, round, yellow-brown stem. The leaves are oblong, lanceolate, and grow alternately along the stem. The flowers are yellow; the whole plant contains a milky fluid.

Medicinal parts
leaves, collected before flowering, dried

Historical Properties & Uses

Wild lettuce, in conjunction with other species of lettuce, are sometimes used as a hypnotic, narcotic, sedative or suporific. Years of research have provided some evidence for sedative or depressant properties, but no logical basis has been found for the narcotic effects.

The origin of the narcotic claims appears lie in the similarity of appearance and odor of the milky white juice of the plant to the expressed juice of the opium poppy. White lactuca juice is air-dried, it hardens and turns brown; in this fashion it also resembles opium, and is called lactucarium. Apparently the similarity ends there.

Several studies have shown lactucarium possess no opium-like action. A report of the last century also reported the presence of hyoscyamine, a belladonna alkaloid with psychoactive properties. But that chemical has never been found since, and is generally considered not to be present in wild lettuce.

In sum, a "high" cannot be achieved through the use of wild lettuce, although some sedative effect may be experienced. From a psychological point of view, people will probably continue to get high from it for a long time.

Homeopathic uses of a tincture of fresh wild lettuce include symptomatic relief of laryngitis, tracheitis, violent cough, bronchitis, asthma and infections of the urinary tract. Most of those uses could reflect the herb's sedative action.

Method of Action

Wild Lettuce Has No Narcotic Action
Wild lettuce opium is the dried milky juice or latex. It is often called lactucarium. Lettuce opium contains two bitter principles, lactucin and lactucopicrin. Many studies conducted over the last century have failed to reveal any narcotic, hypnotic or psychoactivity in lactucarium whatsoever.

Hyoscyamine, a belladonna alkaloid, was once thought to be present, but research has shown it probably isn't. Miniscule amounts of morphine have been detected in lettuce leaves (as well as in hay); this amount of morphine would have no physiological effect at all.

Wild Lettuce May Have CNS Sedative Properties
Several years ago, while looking for central nervous system action in wild lettuce, a researcher found lactucin and lactucopicrin had definite sedative or CNS depressant properties. Other studies have failed to verify those findings.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

There is presently insufficient data on this subject.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

The toxicity level of wild lettuce has not been determined at this time.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried leaf
0.5-3 grams

made from 1/2-1 tsp of dried leaf

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 0.5-3 ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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