People have used wild lettuce for centuries to relieve pain and for its sedative and anti-inflammatory effects. However, there is a lack of research to confirm the plant’s efficacy and safety, and consuming it may cause adverse effects.
Wild lettuce grows in wild habitats. Wild lettuce plants contain sedative compounds that may relieve pain but may also be toxic.
This article discusses wild lettuce and how people have traditionally used it. It looks at its potential pain-relieving properties and other possible benefits and side effects. It also explains how to use wild lettuce and answers some frequently asked questions (FAQ).
Wild lettuce, Lactuca virosa, is a type of lettuce belonging to the Asteraceae family of plants. The genus Lactuca L. encompasses many kinds of lettuce, including the
Growing in Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, wild lettuce can reach 150 centimeters (cm) high and is a biennial plant, growing every 2 years. In Latin, Lactuca means milky extract, and virosa means toxic. People sometimes call wild lettuce “opium lettuce” or Launaea taraxacifolia.
The plant releases milky latex from its stem and leaves called lactucarium, an active herbal ingredient.
According to an older review, people have used lettuce for its beneficial effects for centuries, and several countries listed wild lettuce in pharmacopeias up to the early twentieth century.
The review explains that wild lettuce latex contains bitter sesquiterpene lactones — compounds in plant extracts — that scientists believe are responsible for their herbal properties. The sesquiterpene that researchers have studied most is lactucin, which is also present in common lettuce and chicory.
According to the review, recreational users reported a similar narcotic-euphoric effect. Additionally, animal studies in mice confirmed the analgesic and sedative effects of wild lettuce.
However, there is a lack of recent studies to back up traditional medication health claims.
Due to the potential pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, some healthcare retailers may market wild lettuce as a supplement for therapeutic purposes. However, there is no conclusive evidence for efficacy and safety when using wild lettuce for pain.
Although people have used wild lettuce traditionally for centuries, there is very little research to confirm its health benefits.
- hypolipidaemic — decrease the levels of lipids in the blood
- anti-lipid peroxidation — prevent oxidants such as free radicals from attacking lipids
- neuroprotective — protect the central nervous system (CNS)
- anticancer — stop or prevent cancer
- antimalarial — stop or prevent malaria
- antiarthritic — relieve or reduce arthritis
- anti-inflammatory — relieve or prevent inflammation
- antibacterial — stops bacterium from growing
- cardioprotective — protects the cardiovascular system
- DNA-protective — protects DNA cells
Other research in 2014 confirms that the Lactuca species has anti-inflammatory and possibly anticancer properties.
Certain sources stress caution when using wild lettuce and advise people to only use it under the supervision of a skilled practitioner.
They note that wild lettuce contains hyoscyamine, which depresses the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the function of the digestive tract, respiration, and heart rate. They warn that overdoses of wild lettuce may cause death through cardiac paralysis.
Additionally, fresh wild lettuce releases milky latex, which may irritate the skin.
If someone consumes wild lettuce and experiences symptoms or side effects, they must contact a doctor.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people should not use wild lettuce the same way as regular lettuce because of its potentially toxic effects. Therefore, experts do not recommend eating wild lettuce as a salad ingredient as it may be unsafe.
Some people make wild lettuce into an extract by simmering the dried herb in a pan with alcohol and water until it becomes concentrated. They collect the steam in an upside-down lid and use a process of rinsing alcohol through the plant material to make a decoction, which is a concentrated liquor.
Retailers sell wild lettuce in the following forms:
- liquid tinctures
- powder extracts
- dried herbs
If someone wishes to use wild lettuce as a herbal supplement, they must seek advice from a qualified practitioner. Wild lettuce herbal remedies may interact with medications or be unsuitable for certain groups of people, such as those who are pregnant or who have a health condition.
Below are the answers to some commonly asked questions.
How do I identify wild lettuce?
However, it is unsafe to forage for wild herbs unless someone is suitably qualified, as they may be toxic.
What are safe alternatives to wild lettuce for pain relief?
People have used wild lettuce in traditional medicine for pain relief for centuries, and some studies suggest the plant has analgesic and sedative properties.
However, there is not enough evidence to indicate that wild lettuce is safe or effective for this purpose. Wild lettuce may be toxic and cause dangerous side effects, so always consult a qualified practitioner before using it.
A person can ask their doctor to prescribe medication for pain relief or to recommend safe, natural alternatives.