Wild Lettuce Herbal Use
Author: Karen Bergeron April 2019
Wild Lettuce is a very common wild herb in North America and is often considered to be a noxious weed in yards, fields, waste places, sidewalk cracks and on roadsides. Be careful when harvesting that you don't use Wild Lettuce where it has been sprayed with herbicides to kill it. The usually tall plant is easily identified by the dandelion like leaves that usually clasp the stem, the prickles on the mid vein of the leaves (in most species), and the milky sap that exudes from the stems, flowers and leaves. There are several species of Wild Lettuce. Some have small yellow to reddish yellow flowers and some have small blue flowers.
In the last year, articles on the Internet and links on Facebook have sensationalized the use of Wild Lettuce as a substitute for morphine - in a headline link to a website that sells ebooks. Wild Lettuce herb contains no opium whatsoever, and people report mixed reviews of its effectiveness. It has none of the addictive properties of opium and is much milder.
I can't explain why science seems to say "Wild Lettuce has no substantiated medicinal use, but don't use because it can be sedating." But that is pretty much the case with herbs. With so much conflicting information, it's hard to know the truth. In this article, I hope to present all sides of the story. The links at the end of this article will provide additional information, as well as sites that go into detail indentifying Wild Lettuce herb.
People use Wild Lettuce in teas, tinctures, and smoking mixtures. You can also buy Wild Lettuce in capsules. Lactuca virosa is considered to be the strongest in herbal properties, but all species can be used.
Moderate use of Wild lettuce should be safe for use by most people, but please read on to learn when and how NOT to use it as well.
Many herbs are safely used as remedies for most people, but border or cross the danger line when used in excess as intoxicants or when mixed with alcohol, medications or for persons with certain medical conditions. Wild Lettuce herb falls into this category.
Whether or not you choose to use this herb is entirely up to you, but there is one detail in preparation that the popular site left out - preservation - so I am expanding on that below. First, let's go over the variety of uses for Wild Lettuce Herb.
Disclaimer - This information is for educational purposes only. It is not the intent of this website to dispense medical advice. I am not responsible for what you put in your body. If you can't take responsibility for your own actions, please leave this page now. Please see a doctor for your health issues.
Tall Wild Lettuce plants growing in a Fencerow
Wild Lettuce has been used as a herbal remedy for pain relief and more since antiquity. Other herbal uses of Wild Lettuce are as treatment for asthma, to encourage a mother's milk production, to ease insomnia, coughing, anxiety as well as many other herbal uses.
Wild Lettuce herb is said to depress the respiratory system in large doses, and that poses some danger in susceptible individuals, or if one is taking other medications that would enhance it's effect.
The Egyptians used Wild Lettuce as a natural aphrodisiac, while other civilizations used it to cool sexual libido and to suppress lusty dreams. It was used as an opium substitute during the Civil War. Some effectiveness of Wild Lettuce is attributed the the "placebo effect", as if one thinks they are receiving morphine, it would enhance the anesthetic effects of the herb.
An application of sap from Wild Lettuce to skin is said to ease pain from bee and wasp stings as well as quelling the itch of Poison Ivy rash. However, as some people may experience skin irritation from application of the sap, it is best to test on a small area of skin before widespread application.
Wild lettuce is an ancestor of the lettuce we used in salad today, and has be eaten raw (though usually prickly) or cooked as a pot green in small portions. I think I'll pass on that for safety concerns. The spines of wild lettuce are not especially sharp, but I avoid eating raw leaves with spines for fear of throat irritation so cannot vouch for the taste. Wild Lettuce sap is extremely bitter.
When researching herbs, I always reach for The Herb Book by John Lust as it was my first herbal book. He says Wild Lettuce is too strong to be used without the advice of a professional herbalist and that juice from domesticated lettuce , L. Sativa can be used instead.
My Experience with Wild Lettuce
I experimented a bit with Wild Lettuce plant last year for my chronic back pain, using the non-alcoholic method described in the Fluid Herbal Extracts article. In summer, I usually add my herbal preparations to iced tea to sip throughout the day. The glycerin extracts taste awful on their own, to me anyway, but lend a tolerable sweetness to my unsweetened tea and this method spaces the dose so I don't get spacey. I have no desire to use this herb to try to "get a buzz". A tablespoon of the Wild Lettuce fluid extract in my quart jar of tea and drank over an eight hour period seemed to take the edge off the pain without any of the euphoric effects attributed to the herb, which I really didn't want while working. For a single dose, I used a teaspoon of the extract every four hours. That was my experience, yours may vary and you may experience a toxic reaction from Wild Lettuce. See more on dosage in links at end of article.
Update 4/7/2021 I no longer use this herb as I have found Kratom to be more useful in my situation.
Sap exuding from stem of wild lettuce after poking with a fingernail.
My supply of Wild Lettuce extract ran out and by the time I had finished, the wild plants had faded. This didn't concern me as I had seen wild lettuce so cheap in early spring that it seemed as easy to buy a pound as pick it myself. I was surprised when I went to order this previously inexpensive herb online late last summer and found that the supply was diminished and prices were highly inflated! Needless to say, this year I will focus on harvesting my own Wild Lettuce. It's not hard to find once you realize that the leaves vary a lot but most varieties will have the prickly midrib on leaves and all will have the free-flowing milky sap.
Use Wild Lettuce at your own risk! Effects may vary from person to person. Do not use if pregnant or nursing. Do not use with other medications that sedate the central nervous system or the respiratory system.
Additional Information and Resources
Dosage suggestions from
Infusion: 1 tsp/cup, infuse 15 min, TID.
Tincture: (1:1, 25%), 0.5-3ml TID.
Minnesota Wildflowers - Tall Blue Lettuce One of the tallest weeds you may see!
Wild lettuces reaching impressive size this growing season (2015)
This page will help you identify several species of Wild Lettuce
Pictures and Article Copyright AltNature and Karen Bergeron April 23, 2018