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Botanical Name: Lactuca indica
Synonyms: L. amurensis. L. laciniata. L. saligna.
Common Names: Indian lettuce, milkweed, wild lettuce (En); lechuga de la India (Sp)
Lactuca indica is native to E. Asia. It grows on grassy places in lowland all over Japan.
Description: Lactuca indica is an erect, perennial /annual herbaceous plant, 0.5-1m. high; rarely branched. Leaves alternate, sessile; the lower deeply lobed; the upper occasionally entire; margins toothed. Inflorescence in terminal head; flowers yellow. Achene small, tipped with a tuft of hairs. All parts of the plant contain a milky juice. It is in flower during June to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.
The plant is sometimes cultivated for its edible leaves in parts of Asia, especially Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.
Edible Uses: Leaves – raw or cooked. Added to salads or soups. The leaves contain about 1.5% protein, 0.4% fat, 2.2% carbohydrate, 0.7% ash. Stem – cooked. It contains 0.6% protein, 0.1% fat, 2.1% carbohydrate, 0.5% ash. Leaves and tender stems with slight bitterness are used fresh as salad, boiled, steamed or stir-fried, or in soup.
Beta-carotene: high; riboflavin: medium; ascorbic acid: medium; calcium: medium; iron: high; protein: 2.2%. Leaves contain also six antioxidative phenolic compounds.
The entire plant, and especially the leaves, is employed as a depurative and demulcent The leaves are used in treating mastitis, galactophoritis, furunculosis and abscesses. They are also effective for gastralgia and dyspepsia. The usual dose is 8 to 20g per day in the form of a decoction, extract or syrup. A mixture with some other plants is used externally in the form of a poultice of pounded fresh leaves.
The plant is digestive and tonic. Although we have seen no specific reports for this species, most if not all members of the genus have a milky sap that contains the substance ‘lactucarium‘ and can probably be used as the report below details. The whole plant is rich in a milky sap that flows freely from any wounds. This hardens and dries when in contact with the air. The sap contains ‘lactucarium’, which is used in medicine for its anodyne, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties. Lactucarium has the effects of a feeble opium, but without its tendency to cause digestive upsets, nor is it addictive. It is taken internally in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, neuroses, hyperactivity in children, dry coughs, whooping cough, rheumatic pain etc. Concentrations of lactucarium are low in young plants and most concentrated when the plant comes into flower. It is collected commercially by cutting the heads of the plants and scraping the juice into china vessels several times a day until the plant is exhausted. An infusion of the fresh or dried flowering plant can also be used. The plant should be used with caution, and never without the supervision of a skilled practitioner. Even normal doses can cause drowsiness whilst excess causes restlessness and overdoses can cause death through cardiac paralysis. Some physicians believe that any effects of this medicine are caused by the mind of the patient rather than by the medicine. The sap has also been applied externally in the treatment of warts.
Prefers a light sandy loam. We do not know how hardy this plant will be in Britain, though it can be grown here as an annual. It takes about 60 days from seed sowing until the first leaves are harvested. This species is sometimes cultivated for its edible leaves in Asia. It originated in China but is now cultivated in many parts of S.E. Asia.
Seed – sow early spring in a warm greenhouse, only just covering the seed. Germination is usually rapid, prick out the seedlings when large enough to handle and plant them out after the last expected frosts. Division in spring. Make sure each piece of root has a leaf bud. Root cuttings in late winter.
Known Hazards : Although no specific mention of toxicity has been seen for this species, many plants in this genus contain a narcotic principle, this is at its most concentrated when the plant begins to flower. This principle has been almost bred out of the cultivated forms of lettuce but is produced when the plant starts to go to seed.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.