Facts and benefits of Wild Lettuce

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Facts and benefits of Wild Lettuce

Wild Lettuce Quick Facts
Name: Wild Lettuce
Scientific Name: Lactuca virosa
Origin South east and east of England
Shapes Rough, black fruit is oval, with a broad wing along the edge
Taste Bitter taste
Health benefits Helps to relieve pain and Used to treat respiratory issues
Wild Lettuce commonly refers to the bitter cousin of common garden lettuce is a biennial herb that belongs to the lactuca genus and the sunflower family. Its botanical name is Lactuca Virosa and is native to Europe. It is called by various names, such as Wild Lettuce, Bitter lettuce, Laitue vireuse, Opium Lettuce, Poisonous Lettuce, Tall Lettuce, Great Lettuce, Rakutu-Karyumu-So, compass plant, horse thistle, Prickly lettuce and wild opium. In Latin, Lactuca means ‘milky extract’ and Virosa means ‘toxic’.

Wild lettuce contains a type of bitter tasting milky juice that can be extracted from almost any part of the plant. The leaves, seed and latex of this herb are used in herbal medicinal preparations. The fresh leaves can be added to salads, though be warned that the leaves are bitterer than typical salad greens. Once established, wild lettuce is a hardy plant and easy to maintain. It is a great relaxing and sedating herb that has been used for thousands of years. In fact, Roman emperor Augustus created a statue to a herbalist who recommended wild lettuce for his health problems. And in ancient Egypt, there was a wild lettuce harvest because this herb was well known for its healing qualities.

Plant Description

Wild lettuce is a biennial herb that grows about 200 cm high. It is found growing in grassy places by roads, canals etc and on banks near the sea, cracks in sidewalks, vacant lots and other waste places. It prefers moist, rich, well-draining soil. The plant has brown tap-root and erect stem is smooth and pale green, sometimes spotted with purple. There are a few prickles on the lower part and short horizontal branches above.


Radical leaves are from 6 to 18 inches long, entire, and obovate-oblong and stem leaves are scanty, alternate, and small, clasping the stem with two small lobes.

Flower & Fruit

Small yellow flowers are around ¼ inch wide. Multiple flowers occur on single plant. Flowering normally takes place from July until September. Later the plant produces rough, black fruit that is oval with a broad wing along the edge, and prolonged above into a long, white beak carrying silvery tufts of hair.


L. virosa was used in the 19th century by physicians when opium could not be obtained. It was studied extensively by the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1911. They discovered two chemicals responsible for the properties of L. virosa; lactucopicrin and lactucin. In the United States, the plant experienced resurgence in popularity in the 1970s. Today the plant is un-scheduled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning it is legal to grow, purchase and own without prescription or license.

Health benefits of Wild Lettuce

Wild Lettuce is an herb which is not considered a vegetable like the common green lettuce. Wild lettuce is more popular for its “opium-like” effects due to its sedative and psychotropic properties. It is believed that the Ancient Greeks and Romans used this herb as a food crop. Wild Lettuce has a few health related benefits which include the following:

1. Helps to relieve pain

Wild Lettuce has analgesic property, along with sedative property which makes it an excellent painkiller. The action of compounds found in the lactucarium is similar to the action of morphine, which reduces the central nervous system, blunting its ability to feel the pain. Thus, wild lettuce is beneficial for solving colic pain, arthritic pain, muscle spasms, joint pain, muscle pain, and uterine cramps in women during the menstruation.

2. Hardening of arteries

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which the arteries become thick and stiff, by this means, blood pressure will increase and the blood flow to the organs and tissues will be restricted. This happens due to cholesterol, fats and other substances to get accumulated in the walls of arteries. The seed oil of wild lettuce helps to regain the flexibility and elasticity of the affected arteries.

3. Used in treatment of urinary tract problems

Natural diuretics are a safer alternative to diuretic medicines as they pose less or no side effects. Wild lettuce has diuretic property and can be used to treat urinary tract infections.

4. Used to treat respiratory issues

Wild lettuce can be used as a natural treatment for asthma and annoying coughs due to its antitussive properties. It helps to bring down the irritation of the bronchial tubes and lungs. It also facilitates the difficulty breathing associated with asthma. Besides, it can be an effective treatment for a whooping cough and bronchitis.

5. Helps to soothe stress and anxiety

Wild lettuce has a mild euphoric property. It is supposed to have properties which inhibit nervous system’s functions. Therefore, wild lettuce is used to soothe the stress and anxiety.

6. For the Skin

Wild lettuce is beneficial in treating chapped skin. Locals use the latex of the herb topically to treat minor skin related issues such as infections.

7. Helps with migraines and headaches

Wild lettuce is wonderful for treating migraines and headaches. One cup of wild lettuce tea ebbs a headache away amazingly fast. The tincture form of wild lettuce is also effective in getting rid of a headache.

8. To treat sexual disorders

Wild lettuce helps to hold back the sex drive. Therefore, it is used to treat nymphomania – uncontrollable and extreme sex drive in women.

9. Sedative

Pain relieving qualities of Wild Lettuce also help in relaxing the body. This makes it very useful in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety, with it also called feeble opium because it does not upset the digestive system. However, it is said to produce a euphoric, dreamy effect making it much easier to drop off to sleep.

This sedative effect makes it especially beneficial to an overactive nervous system and it’s particularly good for hyperactive children

10. Other Benefits

Wild Lettuce is also used for treating whooping cough and dry cough. According to some, the seeds of the herb can be used to treat hardening of the arteries. The herb is diuretic and can help in increasing perspiration. Some also associate the herb with the treatment of the excessive sex drive in women which is also known as nymphomania and priapism in men.

Traditional uses and benefits of Wild Lettuce

  • Sap contains ‘lactucarium’, which is used in medicine for its anodyne, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties.
  • It is taken internally in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, neuroses, hyperactivity in children, dry coughs, whooping cough, rheumatic pain etc.
  • An infusion of the fresh or dried flowering plant can also be used.
  • Sap has also been applied externally in the treatment of warts.
  • 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.
  • It treats number of diseases including Asthma, cough, insomnia, headache, pain, sore muscles and menstrual problems.
  • It relaxes the nervous tension and excitements in kids.
  • It is a good cure for less severe Asthma related problems and bronchitis.
  • It helps to loosen and expel phlegm from the respiratory tract.
  • It is a good cure for Insomnia.
  • It is used to treat dry skin.
  • In boosts lactation in nursing mothers.
  • It relieves muscle tensions and pain caused by Arthritis.
  • It reduces the frequency and severeness of Migraine headaches.
  • You can rub in wild lettuce latex directly to the skin to kill the germs.
  • Combined with other herbs like licorice, wild lettuce is also used to cure coughs.

Ayurvedic Health benefits of Wild Lettuce

  • Insomnia: Prepare tincture of wild lettuce plant. Take one tsp twice a day. It is good remedy for restless children. Give 2 drops twice a day to the child.
  • Warts: Take out the juice from the leaves of Wild Lettuce. Apply it over the warts.
  • Aphrodisiac: Dried Sap of wild lettuce when smoked acts as a sexual stimulator. Put a tbsp of dried wild lettuce sap in the fire and inhale its smoke.
  • Insomnia: Make a decoction of Valerian, Wild lettuce and wind flower. Take it twice a day.

Culinary Uses

  • Leaves are consumed raw or cooked.
  • Mild flavored oil, used in cooking, is obtained from the seeds.

Dosage of wild lettuce

Wild lettuce is used in the form of tincture, tea, whole smoked dried herb, and capsules. The most common types, however, include teas and tinctures. The dosage for the pain relies upon a few factors like the intensity of the pain, the age of the person and his or her general health. As of now, there is no definite dosage (with a scientific base) for the wild lettuce. Practically,

  • 3 to 4 ml of tincture 2-3 times per day
  • 2 to 3 cups of tea (made with two teaspoons of chopped leaves or stems of wild lettuce) per day is considered safe, effective and cause no side effects.

Therefore, if it is consumed in normal doses for small periods, wild lettuce is relatively safe. Overdose brings about drowsiness and restlessness. Excessive doses can slow down your breathing and may cause death.

Other Facts

  • Whole plant is rich in a milky juice that flows freely from any wound.
  • Dried leaves and stem are used for tea.
  • It should only be used for 7 to 10 days and then take a week off and then come back to it if needed.
  • The plant is also known as the compass plant as its leaves change direction to follow the sun.


  • Even normal doses can cause drowsiness whilst excess causes restlessness.
  • Overdoses can cause death through cardiac paralysis.
  • Overdose may cause restlessness, drowsiness.
  • It may causes temporary reduction in sexual desire and performance.
  • It should not be taken by those who are pregnant, nursing, or by small children.
  • It should not be taken by those with glaucoma or prostate disease or by those who are taking some kind of relaxant medication.
  • Herb should not be used while driving or operating machinery.
  • Applying the milky latex directly to the skin can develop an irritation.
  • If you are allergic to Compositae family, including, ragweed, daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds, etc. you can develop severe allergic reactions to wild lettuce.
  • If you have a scheduled surgery stop using this herb two weeks before it. As the herb itself is a sedative, it is dangerous to take along with anesthesia and other sedative medicines used after the surgery.















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