Herb: Prickly Lettuce


Latin name: Lactuca serriola


Synonyms: Lactuca scariola


Family: Compositae



Medicinal use of Prickly Lettuce:

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. This species does not contain as much lactucarium as L. virosa. 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. The fixed oil from the seeds is said to possess antipyretic and hypnotic properties. A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant. It is used in the treatment of chronic catarrh, coughs, swollen liver, flatulence and ailments of the urinary tract.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Biennial


Height:
150 cm
(5 feet)

Flovering:
July to
September

Habitat of the herb:

Waste places, walls, occasionally on more or less stable dunes.

Edible parts of Prickly Lettuce:

Young leaves - raw or cooked. A bitter flavour. The young tender leaves are mild and make an excellent salad, but the whole plant becomes bitter as it gets older, especially when coming into flower. As a potherb it needs very little cooking. Large quantities can cause digestive upsets. Young shoots - cooked. Used as an asparagus substitute. An edible oil is obtained from the seed. The oil must be refined before it is edible. A pleasant flavour.

Other uses of the herb:

The seed contains 35.2% of a semi-drying oil. It is used in soap making, paints, varnishes etc.

Propagation of Prickly Lettuce:

Seed - sow spring in situ and only just cover the seed. Germination is usually fairly quick.

Cultivation of the herb:

Waste places, walls, occasionally on more or less stable dunes.

Known hazards of Lactuca serriola:

The mature plant is mildly toxic.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.