Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa)
Other common names: Lettuce opium, bitter lettuce, Laitue vireuse, opium lettuce, poisonous lettuce, or Rakutu-Karyumu-So.
*Use extreme caution when wild crafting this herb, as it looks nearly identical to several other plants.
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Photo courtesy of Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen.
Hypnotic, narcotic, sedative, antispasmodic, anodyne, analgesic, diaphoretic, diuretic, bitter, cholagogue (mild, not normally used for this).
You can harvest during its flowering cycle, which goes from July through September of its second year. It does not flower in its first year and becomes its most medicinally active in its second and final year.
Part used: Latex from the stem and leaves, also the leaves themselves are dried and smoked, or tinctured.
Lactucic, malic, citric, phenolic and oxalic acid, lactucipicrin, lactucerin (lactucone), lactucin, flavonoids, aesculin, cichoriin, hyoscyamine, sesquiterpene lactones and bitter principles, coumarins and N-methyl-β-phenethylamine.
Used to treat fever, coughs, insomnia, pain, cough, dysmenorrhea, restlessness, dropsy, muscle pain and spasming, arthritis, menstrual cramps and digestive problems. This plant is like a very weak form of opium without the addictive tendencies or the nausea.
Tincture (dried tincture for this is 1:3 ratio at 45% alc.): 30 – 60 drops, fluid extract: 1/4 to 1 drachm, syrup: 2 drachms, tea: standard infusion, as needed, no more than TID, dried latex extract: 0.3 – 1 gram TID,
Do not give to children. Use great caution when using wildcrafted plant matter as the potency and toxicity of this plant varies dramatically depending on where it was sourced and how it was grown.
A poultice made with this plant has been known to treat warts, boils, sunburns and other ailments.
Do not use if pregnant or nursing. Always dose on the low end first, and work your way up until an effect is seen. This herb can be mortally toxic in high enough doses and should NEVER be given to animals. If dosed too high, stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system can occur, as can respiratory distress, anxiety and auditory hallucinations. Allergies such as topical dermatitis are also possible, so begin using in great moderation (especially in allergy-prone patients).
I suggest consulting a pharmacist or physician before starting any herbal supplement if you are taking a prescription medication or have serious underlying health concerns.
Wild lettuce has been known to bring on wild dreams and visions. After surviving a serious illness and attributing the recovery to this herb, the emperor Augustus built an altar and statue dedicated to it. In Egypt it was used as an aphrodisiac and a sacred fertility herb. Interestingly enough, the Greeks considered it an anaphrodisiac and gave it to men to curb their libido.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended as general education on herbs and is not intended to take the place of medical care. Please consult a health care professional before embarking on any health regime.