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Botanical Name : Lactuca virosa
Species: L. virosa
Habitat : Lactuca virosa is found in Europe, including Britain, from Belgium south and west to N. Africa, Central Russia and W. Asia.It is also found in the Punjab Region of Pakistan India and Australia where it grows in the wild.
Lactuca virosa is an annual or biennial plant and is similar to prickly lettuce Lactuca serriola but taller – it can grow to 200 cm. It is also stouter, the stem and leaves are more purple flushed,[disputed – discuss] the leaves are less divided, but more spreading.
It is hardy to zone 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.
The achene is purple black, without bristles at the tip. The pappus is the same as Lactuca serriola.
Prefers a light sandy loam and a sunny position. The wild lettuce is cultivated as a medicinal plant in many areas of Europe.
Seed – sow spring or autumn in situ and only just cover the seed. Germination is usually fairly quick.
Leaves are eaten raw or cooked. Very tender. A mild flavoured oil, used in cooking, is obtained from the seeds.
A latex which is called lactucarium can be derived from the extract of the stem secretions of Lactuca virosa. Oils and extracts can also be produced from L. virosa. These oils and extracts have sedative properties in rodents. They may be added to tea to help induce sleep. While its use as a galactagogue (a substance that increases breast milk) has been reported, the sedative effects on the baby would strongly argue against its use for this purpose. Many add the greens to salads, though the leaves of L. virosa are more bitter than other salad greens. Smoking involves either dried leaves or a sticky precipitate extracted from the leaves. Beverages can be prepared by soaking the leaves in alcohol.
The plant contains flavonoids, coumarins, and N-methyl-?-phenethylamine.[unreliable source?] A variety of other chemical compounds have been isolated from L. virosa. One of the compounds, lactucin, is an adenosine receptor agonist in vitro, while another, lactucopicrin, has been shown to act as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor in vitro
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. This species is probably the richest supply of lactucarium. The plant also contains ‘hyoscyamine’, a powerful depressant of the parasympathetic nervous system. 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. A 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.
Wild lettuce is a valuable remedy for insomnia and muscular arthritis. The common name “lettuce opium“, as it was known in the earlier official pharmacopoeias, refers to the potent milky latex produced by the stems and leaves. There has been a recent internet driven surge of popularity of wild lettuce as a recreational herb, however wild lettuce will disappoint those only looking for a legal high similar to opium. The powers that be have outlawed all the truly narcotic herbs, leaving only the less potent ones available to use without fear of running afoul of the law. That said, this relaxing and sedative herb can be a ally for those needing help to induce sleep, and calm restlessness.
Poisonous. Cases of poisoning caused by this plant have only been recorded very rarely.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.