Hollow-stemmed biennial growing to about 4 ft (1.2 m). Has broad spiny leaves and clusters of pale yellow composite flowers. All parts of the plant exude a white milky latex.
Habitat & Cultivation
Common throughout Europe, wild lettuce grows in open areas, along roadsides, and in hedges. It is gathered when in flower in late summer.
Leaves, latex, seeds.
The latex contains sesquiterpene lactones (including lactucopicrin and lactucerin); the leaves also contain flavonoids and coumarins. The sesquiterpene lactones have a sedative effect.
History & Folklore
In Assyrian herbal medicine, lettuce seeds were reportedly used with cumin (Cuminum cyminum) as a poultice for the eyes. Dioscorides (1st century CE) wrote that the plant’s effect resembled that of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Wild lettuce is a safe sedative that can be given to adults and children to encourage a sound night’s sleep or to calm overactivity or overstimulation. Most commonly, it is recommended for excitability in children. It is also taken to treat coughs, often in combination with herbs such as licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Wild lettuce is thought to lower the libido. It may also be used to relieve pain.
A 2011 Egyptian clinical trial found that lettuce seed oil improved sleep in people suffering from insomnia. Lettuce seed oil has traditionally been used in Egypt for sleep problems.
Garden lettuce (L. sativa) may be used like wild lettuce, but has a much weaker therapeutic action.