What Is Wild Lettuce?
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What is Wild Lettuce?
Wild Lettuce commonly refers to the more bitter cousins of common garden lettuce. This group of plants is used in everything from sleep tonics to soap to teas.
The three main species of this group are Lactuca Virosa, Lactuca Canadennis, and Lactuca Serriola.
They have been used in herbal medicine throughout history mainly as a sleep aid. You may have noticed in your local supermarket that lettuce comes in many different varieties. Just click on the link to http://www.botany.com/lactuca.html to get a description of some popular breeds. The wild relations are edible but more bitter in taste. Just look at any bag of mixed field greens and you will see many varieties of wild Lettuce.
The history of Wild Lettuce can be traced way back to the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptian god of fertility, Min, is closely tied to the plant and he is often depicted holding a rosette of Lactuca Serriola. A very good article on the Egyptians and the use of Wild Lettuce as an aphrodisiac and sex enhancer can be found here:
Wild Lettuce was also used by the Romans and Augustus was said to have raised a statue in honor of the Lettuce infusion that he claimed saved his life. The Roman naturalist Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – 79 AD) , better known as Pliny the Elder wrote extensively of Lactuca in his work Naturalis Historia:
Lactucarium was produced by pharmaceutical companies until about the 1940′s.
Many studies of the medicinal qualities of Wild Lettuce have been made. Several chemicals which constitute a mild sedative and cough suppressant can be found in the wild Lactuca species. The two main chemicals are Lactucopicrin and Lactucin, represented here:
When a stem or leaf from a Wild Lettuce plant is broken or cut, it will bleed a thick milky sap. The dried sap is often referred to as Lettuce Opium, though it contains no opiates. This sap can be extracted many ways, but the most common is by soaking plant material in alcohol. After several weeks, the plant material is filtered out. This extract is usually called Lactucarium. The usual way of consuming Lactucarium is by dissolving a few drops into tea.
Here’s an old ad we made years ago:
For holistic healers, here is some information on why Wild Lettuce is effective:
LACTUCARIUM, A CONDENSED LATEX FROM LACTUCA VIROSA L. INHIBITS THE ACTIVITY OF NEP
I. Funke, M. F. Melzig
Institut für Pharmazie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Goethestr. 54, 13086 Berlin, Germany
Lettuce opium, the condensed brown latex from Lactuca virosa L. (Prickly Lettuce) has been used for many years as an analgesic and antitussive agent since its invention by Kore in 1792. Some hundred years ago the effects of Lactuca virosa L. or other Lactuca species have been known in ancient Egypt and Greece. Lactucin and lactucopicrin, two guaiane-type sesquiterpene lactones, were isolated in 1939 by Schenck et al. [l] and recent phytochemical examination of the plant led to the isolation of other sesquiterpene lactones, namely jacquinelin, 8-desoxylactucin, 11?, 13-dihydrolactucin and lactuside A [2, 3]. The analgesic potency of those substances has been shown by Gromek et al. .
With a view to find a possibility to account for pharmacological effects of the drug, the material was tested for its ability to inhibit the activity of NEP (enkephalinase), which is the common name given to the enzyme that cleaves methionine5- or leucine5- enkephalin at the Gly3- Phe4- bond. For determination of NEP activity we used a two-step assay according to Bormann et al. . Tests with aqueous and methanolic extracts of the dried latex showed a distinct inhibiting effect on NEP in a concentration-dependent way. We tested two types of lettuce opium, one gathered from the annual plant and the other from the biannual plant. Differences were found between the two types: Annual Lactucarium showed a more pronounced inhibition, in particular the aqueous extract. The aqueous extract of the annual plant was the more active one with an IC50 value of 90 µg/ml. Tests with aqueous extracts of the biannual plant led to an IC50 value of 530 µg/ml.
On account of well-known inhibitory potency of flavonoids on NEP the extract was tested for their presence by TLC. We could exclude the presence of flavonoids. Additionally, we tested opioid receptor binding in mice brain membranes by receptor binding assay but no effects of lettuce opium on opioid receptors were seen.
1. Schenck, G., Graf, H., Schreber, W. (1939) Archiv der Pharmazie 277: 137-145
2. Gromek, D. (1989) Polish Journal of Chemistry 63: 297 – 301
3. Gromek, D. (1991) Polish Journal of Chemistry 65: 1979 – 1981
4. Gromek, D., Kisiel, W., Klodziñska, A., Chojnacka – Wójcik, E. (1992) Phytotherapy Research 6: 285 – 287
5. Bormann, H., Melzig, M.F. (2000) Pharmazie 55: 129-132
ANALGESIC AND SEDATIVE ACTIVITIES OF LACTUCIN AND SOME LACTUCIN-LIKE GUAIANOLIDES IN MICE
aDepartment of New Drugs Research, Institute of Pharmacology, Polish Academy of Sciences, 12 Smetna Str., 31-343 Krakow, Poland
bDepartment of Phytochemistry, Institute of Pharmacology, Polish Academy of Sciences, 12 Smetna Str., 31-343 Krakow, Poland
Received 5 December 2005;
revised 16 February 2006;
revised 12 March 2006.
Available online 17 March 2006.
Lactucin (1) and its derivatives lactucopicrin (2) and 11β,13-dihydrolactucin (3), which are characteristic bitter sesquiterpene lactones of Lactuca virosa and Cichorium intybus, were evaluated for analgesic and sedative properties in mice. The compounds showed analgesic effects at doses of 15 and 30 mg/kg in the hot plate test similar to that of ibuprofen, used as a standard drug, at a dose of 30 mg/kg. The analgesic activities of the compounds at a dose of 30 mg/kg in the tail-flick test were comparable to that of ibuprofen given at a dose of 60 mg/kg. Lactucopicrin appeared to be the most potent analgetic of the three tested compounds. Lactucin and lactucopicrin, but not 11β,13-dihydrolactucin, also showed sedative properties in the spontaneous locomotor activity test.
Keywords: Lactuca virosa; Cichorium intybus; Asteraceae; Guaianolides; Analgesic activity; Sedative activity
International names of Wild Lettuce:
CROATIAN : Divlja salata, Otrovna locika.
CZECH : Locika jedovatá.
DANISH : Giftsalat, Giftig salat, Stinksalat.
DUTCH : Giftsla
ENGLISH : Acrid lettuce, Bitter lettuce, Butter lettuce, Garden lettuce, Great lettuce, Hemlock lettuce, Opium lettuce, Poison lettuce, Prickly lettuce, Wild lettuce.
FINNISH : Rohtosalaatti.
FRENCH : Laitue vireuse.
GERMAN : Giftlattich, Gift-Lattich, Weiden-Lattich.
HUNGARIAN : Mérges saláta.
ITALIAN : Lattuga velenosa, Lattùga velenosa.
POLISH : Salata jadowita.
PORTUGUESE : Alface brava maior
SERBIAN : Divlja salata, Otrovna salata, Otrovnica gorska.
SLOVENIAN : Lajnež, Smrdljiva salata, Smrdljivac, Strupena locika.
SPANISH : Lactuario, Lechuga silvestre, Lechuga venenosa, Lechuga virosa, Lechuguilla.
SWEDISH : Giftsallat
GREEK : Λακτούκη η τοξική Laktouke e toxike.
JAPANESE : ラクツカ ・ ビロサ Rakutsuka birosa, トゲハニガナ Toge hanigana.
RUSSIAN : Ядовитый латук Iadovityi latuk, Индийский салат Indiiiskii salat, Латук ядовитый Latuk iadovityi.
ARABIC : الخس نبات
HEBREW: חסת הבר
Wild Lettuce literature:
Here is a link to the USDA information on Lactuca Virosa.
The British Pharmaceutical Codex website has 3 very good pages regarding Lactuca Virosa and Lactucarium.
Here is another link regarding our favorite herb.