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Wild Lettuce (lactua virosa)

Did you know your dinner salad can calm you down and reduce pain? Wild lettuce, latuca virosa, which is related to most varieties of domesticated lettuce that we commonly eat, has been used traditionally to produce a substance that is used as a cough suppressant, pain reliever, and a hypnotic that promotes relaxation and sleep. It is a tall, biennial plant. In the second year it produces elongated clusters of small, pale yellow flower heads, similar to dandelion. The stalkless leaves are up to one foot long and variable, from nearly toothless and lance-shaped to deeply lobed. It exudes a milky juice when crushed that smells like opium. The preparation made from this plant, Lactucarium, is used as a mild sedative. Dried wild lettuce sap looks, tastes, and smells similar to opium and so has been used to adulterate opium in the past, which probably partially accounts for its name. Traditionally the syrup made from a strong infusion of the plant makes an excellent anodyne, easing pain and gently disposing the patient to sleep. It has none of the violent effects of other opiates. Juice from the roots is added to water or wine, and is said to make a quieting medicine to stop spasms, convulsions, and dry, irritating coughs. The whole plant is sedative, and helps to induce sleep and calm restlessness and anxiety. It can also help to reduce muscle and joint pain, but it is not a cure for the conditions that cause these symptoms. It’s important to note that this plant should not be used without instruction and supervision of a trained herbalist. However, the common lettuce plants that grow in your garden have milder versions of the same qualities. So if you want a calmer, healthier summer, grow some lettuce and eat it every day. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 4 – April 2003