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 most common species of wild lettuce are Lactuca canadennis, and Lactuca serriola. These lettuces are quite different from normal garden lettuce, Lactuca sativa, as they are too bitter to eat Wild species of lettuce have many uses, however. A bitter sap called lettuce opium, or lactucarium, can be found in all lettuce. In the wild species, this sap is much more bitter as it contains has a higher concentration of medicinal alkaloids than garden lettuce.
Lactuca Virosa is a less common variety of wild lettuce, but it is best suited for making extracts. The sap has a very distinct and robust flavor, and is high in alkaloids. The plant itself is a biennial, producing large rosettes in the first season, and can bolt as high as three meters in the flowing stage of the second season. One large plant can produce 80,000 seeds! The plant is tricky to grow as the seeds often remain dormant for years before germinating.
The lore of wild lettuce goes back many thousands of years, even back into prehistory. Our knowledge of human civilization starts to get sparse at around 4000 years BC, but what we know can be traced back to the end of the last ice age. The ice age is kind of like a wall which separates us from prehistory. What remains of prehistory tells us that the ancients had a working knowledge of the us of the stars for keeping time and navigation, with a whole cast of characters populating the zodiac. Prehistoric myths and legends also remain; such as the myth of the great flood, the myth of Moses, and many tales about sky serpents. Religion is born from these roots.
One such god, called Min by the Egyptians, was a fertility god and also the god of magic plants. He is always pictured with stalks of wild lettuce behind him. The Egyptians had an entire festival dedicated to min. It was one of their most important festivals of the year. I wont write too much about it here, because I will write an articles about these subjects in the historical section. Lettuce seed oil is still used to this day in Egypt for medicinal purposes, massage, cooking, and as an aphrodesiac.
The ancient Sumerians were also familiar with this god. Tales of Min as well as a hymn dedicated to him can be found on ancient Sumerian scroll cylinders. There is also a site in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe, with a depiction of Min that goes back 12,000 years!
Wild lettuce pops up several times throughout history. Emperor Augustus of Rome was said to have been cured by an infusion of wild lettuce. Wild lettuce can be found in ancient medicine, as well as an ingredient in magical potions and magical rituals the world over. In the mid 19th century, the industrial trade of Lactucarium flourished as it was a common medicine for headaches and as a cough suppressant. The last popular resurgence of wild lettuce was in few smokable products designed to look like hashish. Lettuces in general make nice burning material for smoking, and lettuce leaves are used in tobacco free cigarettes.
Lettuce opium does not contain any opiates alkaloids. It is called lettuce opium because when the plant is cut, it exudes a sticky white sap. This of course is one of the reasons why it was associated with fertility by the ancients. The dried sap has a few interesting medicinal compounds. The active compounds are proven to be at least half the strength of ibuprofen by weight, with the additional benefit of containing several potentiating alkaloids, as well as having a relaxing effect on the body and mind. The dried sap is also a pleasant smoke, the flavor of which is said to resemble opium. This information is included in regards to the history of the plant, not as a comparison to any illicit substance.
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