Herb latin name: Lactuca capensis

Family: Compositae

Medicinal use of Lactuca capensis:

Although we have seen no specific reports for this species, most if not all members of the genus have a milky sap that contains the substance "lactucarium" and can probably be used as the report below details. The whole plant is rich in a milky sap that flows freely from any wounds. This hardens and dries when in contact with the air. The sap contains "lactucarium", which is used in medicine for its anodyne, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties. Lactucarium has the effects of a feeble opium, but without its tendency to cause digestive upsets, nor is it addictive. It is taken internally in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, neuroses, hyperactivity in children, dry coughs, whooping cough, rheumatic pain etc. Concentrations of lactucarium are low in young plants and most concentrated when the plant comes into flower. It is collected commercially by cutting the heads of the plants and scraping the juice into china vessels several times a day until the plant is exhausted. An infusion of the fresh or dried flowering plant can also be used. The plant should be used with caution, and never without the supervision of a skilled practitioner. Even normal doses can cause drowsiness whilst excess causes restlessness and overdoses can cause death through cardiac paralysis. Some physicians believe that any effects of this medicine are caused by the mind of the patient rather than by the medicine. The sap has also been applied externally in the treatment of warts.

Description of the plant:


50 cm
(1 foot)

Habitat of the herb:

Lower mountain slopes, Lion's Head to Constantia.

Edible parts of Lactuca capensis:

Young plant - cooked.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow spring in a cold frame and only just cover the seed. Germination is usually quick, prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in early summer. Division in spring.

Cultivation of Lactuca capensis:

Lower mountain slopes, Lion's Head to Constantia.

Known hazards of Lactuca capensis:

Although no specific mention of toxicity has been seen for this species, many plants in this genus contain a narcotic principle, this is at its most concentrated when the plant begins to flower. This principle has been almost bred out of the cultivated forms of lettuce but is produced when the plant starts to go to seed.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.