wild lettuce for pain

Wild Lettuce: The Natural Pain Killer

It is sad how much knowledge we have lost over the years.  In addition to traditional skills like gardening, food preservation, and carpentry, we’ve forgotten about medicinal remedies – including ones that can be found in our backyards.  

Luckily, some of these traditional medicines are making a comeback, including lactuca virosa, aka wild lettuce.

Watch a video demo of this amazing plant below:

making extract

What Is Wild Lettuce?

lactuca virosa wild lettuce plant
Wild lettuce is a plant which can grow 6 feet tall.  It has yellow flowers and spiny leaves.  The Latin name “lactuca” means “milk juice” and refers to the milky substance which comes out of the plant when it is cut.

That milky substance contains the natural chemicals lactucin and lacttucopicrin.  These are the substances which are responsible for wild lettuce’s pain killing properties.

For people just getting started with foraging and natural remedies, wild lettuce is one of the most useful plants to know.

Where Does Wild Lettuce Grow?

It is indigenous to the Himalayan region of India.  It is found in Europe, particularly the central and southern parts.  In England, you can find it in the East and Southeast parts.

You can also find wild lettuce growing in the United States in areas like Washington State. I couldn’t find any information about when wild lettuce was introduced to the USA.  However, a lot of foragers claim that it was used by Native Americans as a natural pain reliever and medicinal remedy.

History of Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce has a long history of medical use.  Its use goes back to ancient Egypt and depictions of it were seen in hieroglyphics.  During the Roman Empire, Emperor Augustus built an altar to the plant after using it to recover from illness.

Because of its pain-killing properties, wild lettuce is often called “opium lettuce” because it was used during the 19th century when opium couldn’t be obtained.

Don’t let the name “lettuce opium” put you off though.  The plant is not addictive and does NOT cause the side effects of opiates such as upset stomach.

Identifying Wild Lettuce

wild lettuce milk
Identifying wild lettuce can be a bit tricky because it closely resembles dandelion (Taraxacum) and milk thistle (Lactuca serriola).

When young, wild lettuce has short leaves that grow in clusters.  As it gets older, it develops a thick stalk with long leaves coming off of it.  The leaves are smooth and a light green color.  Sometimes the leaves have purple spots on them.  The root is brown.

When you cut the stalk or leaves of wild lettuce, you’ll see a white milky substance known as latex come out immediately.  The latex turns yellow and then brown as its dries and hardens.

Wild Lettuce vs. Dandelion

Most of us are familiar with how dandelion looks in our yards.  However, when dandelion gets older, you might mistake it for wild lettuce.

Here’s how to spot the difference:

  • Height: Dandelion usually doesn’t grow taller than 1.5 feet. Wild lettuce grows up to 6 feet tall.
  • Number of Flowers: Dandelions have just one flower. Wild lettuce has multiple flowers.
  • Flower Size: Dandelion flowers are usually around 1.5 inches wide. Wild lettuce flowers are small at around ¼ inch wide.
  • Stalk: Dandelion will not grow a thick stalk as it grows older. Wild lettuce will get a thick almost woody stalk.

Wild lettuce vs. Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola)

 Here is where identifying wild lettuce gets tricky. Its cousin lactuca serriola looks a lot like it and their flowers are identical. Since lactuca serriola is found more commonly than wild lettuce, you might think you’ve got wild lettuce when it is really prickly lettuce.

Here’s how to spot the difference:

  • Height: Wild lettuce grows taller than prickly lettuce.
  • Stalk: Wild lettuce is thicker than prickly lettuce.
  • Leaves: This is the best way to tell the difference between the plants. Wild lettuce has leaves which aren’t as divided and spread out more.

Check out these comparison pictures of lactuca virosa (wild lettuce) vs. lactuca serriola (prickly lettuce).

Lactuca virosa (opium lettuce)

Young Lactuca virosa (opium lettuce)

Lactuca serriola

Young Lactuca serriola (NOT opium lettuce!)

Opium lettuce leaves

Lactuca virosa (opium lettuce). Notice how the leaves are more rounded.

Lactuca serriola

Lactuca serriola (NOT opium lettuce). Notice how the leaves are divided and spread out.

lactuca virosa flowers

lactuca virosa (opium lettuce) flowers. Notice how the flowers are identical.

lactuca serriola flower

lactuca serriola (NOT opium lettuce) flower

Using for Pain Relief

 The main benefit of wild lettuce is that it is a powerful pain reliever, hence why the plant is called “opium lettuce.”

The components of wild lettuce which provide pain relief are known as lactones. They act on the central nervous system to calm the nerves which cause pain sensations.

Wild lettuce has been extensively studied and repeatedly shown to reduce pain. (1) The name “opium lettuce” is a misnomer though. While the plant will relieve pain, don’t expect the hardcore sedative effects of opium. It is more comparable to a high dosage of ibuprofen. (2)

The good news though is that wild lettuce will relieve pain without causing the negative effects of opium. You won’t get addicted to wild lettuce nor will you develop a tolerance to it.

Other Benefits of Wild Lettuce

Most of the scientific studies on wild lettuce were for its pain-relieving properties. However, throughout history wild lettuce has been used to treat a wide arrange of ailments, including:

  • Coughs
  • Urinary tract ailments
  • Colic
  • hospital-o
    Menstrual pain
  • hospital-o
    Rheumatism pain
  • hospital-o
    Anxiety
  • ADHD and hyperactivity in children
  • Flatulence
  • Insomnia
  • hospital-o
    Edema
  • hospital-o
    Anti-convulsant
  • hospital-o
    Kidney disorders

Sources - (3), ​(4)

Harvesting Wild Lettuce

All wild lettuce contains the active medicinal components. However, these components are low in young plants. Thus, it is best to harvest wild lettuce when it is an adult, right after its flowering period.

Wild lettuce typically flowers between June and August, but this can vary depending on the climate. 

To tell whether wild lettuce is ready for harvesting, just cut the stalk. The milky sap should flow out readily. If it doesn’t, then the plant isn’t ready yet.

How to Prepare Wild Lettuce

The milky sap from the stem is the most potent part of wild lettuce. Traditionally, wild lettuce was harvested by making cuts in the stalks, letting the sap ooze out, and then letting it dry. The dried sap would be collected.

This traditional harvesting method is very time-consuming and tedious. You might consider just eating the wild lettuce leaves fresh. They are very nutritious (though quite bitter). However, you won’t get a very concentrated dosage this way.

You are better of using one of the methods below. (5)

Wild Lettuce Tea

The pain-relieving components of wild lettuce are soluble in water. Thus, one of the easiest ways to get the benefits of wild lettuce is to make tea from it.

Instructions:

  1. Gather leaves from wild lettuce.
  2. Dry the leaves (If using a dehydrator, make sure you use the low heat setting so you don’t destroy the active compounds). 
  3. Grind the leaves.
  4. Mix 1-2 teaspoons of dried wild lettuce leaves with 1 cup of water.
  5.  Let steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain and drink.
  6. Repeat up to 3x per day. 

Note that wild lettuce tea has a very bitter taste. Add some honey and lemon to make the taste better. You can also mix it with other types of tea to mask the taste.

Wild Lettuce Extract/Resin

Extracts of wild lettuce are very easy to make, but you have to be careful that you don’t overheat the plant. The active components are sensitive to heat.

If the mixture ever comes to a boil or starts sticking to the bottom of the pan, the active components of the wild lettuce will be destroyed.

Watch a video of the process below.

making lettuce resin

Instructions:

  1. Gather wild lettuce leaves.
  2. Put in a blender.
  3. Blend for just a few seconds. You don’t want to completely blend up the leaves.
  4. Pour the ground leaves into a pot.
  5. Add just enough water to cover the wild lettuce.
  6. Put the pot on a stove at LOW heat.
  7. DO NOT LET THE WILD LETTUCE MIXTURE BOIL!
  8. Heat for 30 minutes, stirring often.
  9. The water should turn a very dark green color.
  10. Strain the leaves through a fine mesh (pantyhose works well for this).
  11. Collect the liquid.
  12. Put the liquid into a clean pot.
  13. Heat on LOW again.
  14. Stir frequently. Make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  15. The water will evaporate, leaving behind a concentrate of wild lettuce extract. 

Wild Lettuce Tincture

wild lettuce tincture

Tinctures of wild lettuce are even easier to make than extracts. They also last for much longer. However, not everyone likes using tinctures because they require alcohol – not exactly something you want to give kids!

The amount of alcohol in tinctures is very low though and the small dosage means you don’t have to deal with the bad taste as much.

Choosing a Stripper:

To make a tincture, you need to have a “stripper.” The stripper is what the active compounds dissolve into. Typically a high-proof alcohol like vodka is used to make tinctures.

However, these are better options:

Instructions:

  1. Harvest the entire wild lettuce plant
  2. Chop it up into smaller pieces then put it into a blender.
  3. Add your stripper to the blender.*
  4. Let the mixture sit for at least 3 minutes. Some people recommend letting it sit for 1 week.
  5. Blend thoroughly.
  6. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh, collecting the liquid in a jar.
  7. Strain again using a coffee filter, once again collecting the liquid in a jar.
  8. Store the tincture liquid in dark bottles.

*I’ve seen various recommendations for the ratio of wild lettuce to stripper. You should be good with a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of wild lettuce to stripper. Or, use 8oz of stripper for 4 giant wild lettuce plants. If using dried wild lettuce, use a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5. (6)

 This video shows the process.

Buying Wild Lettuce Tincture

I’m all for the DIY approach to natural medicine. However, I completely understand if you’d rather just buy wild lettuce extract. It is easier and you can be sure of the dosage/potency.

This brand of wild lettuce extract is very reputable, organic, and non-GMO.

If you’d rather have a non-alcohol wild lettuce tincture, this brand is also very reputable and organic.

Smoking Wild Lettuce

You can also smoke wild lettuce. Just take some ground-up dried wild lettuce leaves and roll them into a cigarette.

A lot of people prefer to use a vaporizer to inhale wild lettuce so they can avoid the negative effects of smoking.

Wild Lettuce Dosage

 I found a lot of different info on the best dosage for wild lettuce. It depends a lot on the potency of the plant you used, how you are consuming the wild lettuce, and your individual tolerance.

With natural remedies, it is often best to start with a small dosage and see how you react. Then you can increase the dosage as necessary.

Here are some basic guidelines for taking wild lettuce for pain:

  •  Tea: 1-2 teaspoons of dried wild lettuce seeped in 1 cup of water, 3x per day.
  • Resin: Take about 1.5 grams of resin as needed.
  • Smoking: Use approximately 0.25 grams of dried wild lettuce.
  • Tincture: Take 12-24 drops, 2-3x per day.

Where to Find Wild Lettuce Seeds

wild lettuce seeds

If you find lactuca virosa in the wild, you can harvest the seeds and plant them in your yard (possibly starting a medicinal garden). 

Wild lettuce grows like a weed, so you should be able to easily grow it regardless of where you live. The flowering period of wild lettuce is usually from June to August, and it turns to seed shortly after.

An easier solution is just to buy wild lettuce seeds. I’ve found this brand to be a reliable source of wild lettuce seeds although they can be surprisingly difficult to germinate. 

 Potential Side Effects of Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce generally has very mild effects, especially when taken in appropriate dosages. In larger dosages, you might see some of these side effects:

  • Lethargy
  • Vivid dreams
  • Enhanced colors
  • Loss of balance
  • Distorted vision (8)

At some websites like this one, you’ll see warnings about the toxicity of wild lettuce: “In high doses can produce stupor, depress breathing and overdose can cause coma/death.”

This seems like a huge overstatement though. There are very few recorded incidences of wild lettuce overdose. In this case study, for example, 8 patients presented with wild lettuce overdose. None of them experienced any long-term adverse effects. One of the patients lost conscious. The study doesn’t say how much wild lettuce they consumed, only that it was a “great deal.” 

The patients were treated by keeping them hydrated and using activated charcoal to help absorb the excess wild lettuce in their digestive tracts.

Legal Status of Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce is not a controlled substance under the FDA. It is completely legal to grow, harvest, and use wild lettuce. You can readily buy wild lettuce legally as well.the video


The video below gives a great practical demonstration of the benefits of this plant and shows how to capture its painkilling properties.

making extract

Disclaimer


This article is meant for informational purposes only. None of the content is meant to serve as medical advice or to substitute for medical advice provided by your health care provider. Forage and harvest wild plants at your own risk!

About the Author Jacob Hunter

I'm Jacob Hunter, founder and chief editor of Primal Survivor. I believe in empowering people with the knowledge to prepare and survive in the modern world.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

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