Botanical: Lactuca virosa
Family: Compositae (daisy) - Asteraceae (aster)
Other common names: Prickly Lettuce, Horse Thistle, Compass Plant, Opium Lettuce, Wild Opium, Great Lettuce, Lactucarium Lettuce, Bitter Lettuce
Wild Lettuce is considered a mild sedative that has been known to calm the nerves, treat restlessness, anxiety, hyperactivity and insomnia. Once considered an opium substitute, Wild Lettuce Leaf entered medical practice as a sedative in the eighteenth century because of its similar, but non-addictive, effects. Wild Lettuce Leaf has also been used as a diuretic and pain reliever.
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Wild Lettuce, sometimes called Prickly Lettuce, is an annual or biennial herb that is native to Europe, but was introduced to North America, where it grows as a weed in dumps, waste places and on roadsides from Canada throughout the United States - and considered a very invasive and troublesome weed. The plant can be found virtually throughout the world. The three main species of Wild Lettuce include Lactuca virosa, Lactuca serriola and Lactuca scariola. The plant has erect, slender stems, large, prickly-edged leaves and heads of tiny yellow flowers that may grow to six feet in height. It is sometimes called Prickly Lettuce, which is the very similar, but smaller, L. serriola species, and Compass Plant by some (because it turns its leaves to the sun during the day. It thrives in moist, well-drained, alkaline soil in sun. Wild Lettuce is the ancestor of all lettuce plants. Its use as a medicine may be traced back to ancient times, and even the Roman Emperor, Augustus, was said to build a statue of his physician, who had prescribed the herb for him and cured him of a serious disease in its honor. It was used as a sedative and pain reliever, and the Romans even used it to inhibit inebriation. Wild Lettuce entered medical practice as a sedative in the eighteenth century as an adulterate opium because of its similar, but non-addictive, effects; and new mothers once used it to promote lactation. It is a very bitter, sedative herb that continued to be an opium substitute into the nineteenth century and was sometimes called a "poor man's opium" with mild psychotropic effects. Although it is extremely bitter with an unpleasant smell, Wild Lettuce is loved by horses, and some people do cook it as a vegetable and use it in salads. When dried, the leaves produce a milky latex substance called lactucarium, which is used in herbal medicine. Some of the constituents in Wild Lettuce include the important milky latex substance (lactucarium), sesquiterpene lactones ( lactucopicrin), caoutchouc, mannitol, lactucin, fiber, coumarins and valuable minerals and vitamins.
Wild Lettuce is considered a mild sedative herb. The lactucarium in the leaves is considered mildly narcotic (without being addictive and harsh on the digestive system) and has often been used to induce sleep, as well as treat insomnia and hyperactivity in children (always under the care of a knowledeable health care provider). Because it is soothing to the digestive system, it has also been helpful for colic.
In addition, Wild Lettuce Leaf is used as a "nervine," or agent that strengthens the functional activity of nervous system, which may have either sedative or stimulating effects. The herb is used to calm restlessness, anxiety, severe nervous disorders and neuroses.
Wild Lettuce is believed to be an herbal expectorant that has been effective in easing bronchitis, asthma and dry, irritating coughs by helping to loosen and expel phlegm from the respiratory tract.
Regarded as an herbal diuretic, Wild Lettuce helps to promote and increase urine flow and may be helpful in cases of urinary tract infections and dropsy (edema), which is the accumulation of fluid in tissues (swelling) or body cavities.
Wild Lettuce is considered an anodyne and has been used to relieve pain, particularly muscular pain and the joint pain of arthritis. It is also thought to relieve painful monthly periods.
Wild Lettuce Leaf has been used to soothe inflamed mucous membranes and ease the digestive system. It is said to help relieve colic.
As an antispasmodic, Wild Lettuce Leaf may be used to alleviate cramps, irritating coughs and spasms.
Wild Lettuce Leaf should not be used in conjunction with prescription diuretics. The herb may cause drowsiness; however, when used in excess (many times the recommended dosage), it causes restlessness. Overuse (many time the recommended dosage) may cause slow breathing, severe tiredness, passing out, loss of consciousness, and because Wild Lettuce contains sesquiterpene lactones, it may be associated with allergic reactions, i.e., skin rash. Because Wild Lettuce is said to contain coumarins, those taking prescription blood thinners should speak with their physicians before using this herb.