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Common Name: Wild Lettuce
Lactuca virosa is a Annual/Biennial up to 1.80 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and medicine
]. Cases of poisoning caused by this plant have only been recorded very rarely[
Europe, including Britain, from Belgium south and west to N. Africa, Central Russia and W. Asia.
Grassy places by roads, canals etc and on banks near the sea[
], usually on calcareous soils[
Prefers a light sandy loam and a sunny position[
The wild lettuce is cultivated as a medicinal plant in many areas of Europe[
Leaves - raw or cooked[
]. Very tender[
]. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
A mild flavoured oil, used in cooking, is obtained from the seeds[
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[
Seed - sow spring or autumn in situ and only just cover the seed. Germination is usually fairly quick.