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Lactuca formosana is an annual plant that can grow up to 1.00 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and medicine
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[
E. Asia - China.
Grassland on mountain slopes, fields, along roads at elevations of 100 - 2000 metres[
We have very little information on this species and do not know if it will be hardy in Britain, though judging by its native range it could succeed outdoors in many parts of this country. We are not sure if it is an annual or perennial but assume that it can be grown as a spring-sown annual. The following notes are based on the general needs of the genus.
Prefers a light sandy loam[
Leaves - cooked. A famine food, they are only used when all else fails[
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[
Seed - sow spring in situ and only just cover the seed. Germination is usually fairly quick.