Herb: Blue Lettuce

Latin name: Lactuca pulchella

Synonyms: Lactuca tatarica pulchella

Family: Compositae

Medicinal use of Blue Lettuce:

An infusion of the roots and stems has been given to children in the treatment of diarrhoea. A poultice of the plants has been applied to piles. Although we have seen no other 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:


100 cm
(3 1/4 foot)

Habitat of the herb:

Medium-dry to moist soils in fields, thickets of prairies, valleys and in mountains to 2,100 metres.

Edible parts of Blue Lettuce:

Young leaves - raw or cooked. A gum obtained from the roots is used for chewing.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow April in a greenhouse, only just covering the seed. Germination is usually fairly quick. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when large enough to handle and plant them out in the summer. Division in spring. Root cuttings in spring.

Cultivation of Blue Lettuce:

Medium-dry to moist soils in fields, thickets of prairies, valleys and in mountains to 2,100 metres.

Known hazards of Lactuca pulchella:

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.