Herb: Wild Lettuce

Latin name: Lactuca virosa

Family: Compositae

Medicinal use of Wild 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 is probably the richest supply of lactucarium. The plant also contains "hyoscyamine", a powerful depressant of the parasympathetic nervous system. 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. 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:


180 cm
(6 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Grassy places by roads, canals etc and on banks near the sea, usually on calcareous soils.

Edible parts of Wild Lettuce:

Leaves - raw or cooked. Very tender. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. A mild flavoured oil, used in cooking, is obtained from the seeds.

Propagation of the herb:

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

Cultivation of Wild Lettuce:

Grassy places by roads, canals etc and on banks near the sea, usually on calcareous soils.

Known hazards of Lactuca virosa:

Poisonous. Cases of poisoning caused by this plant have only been recorded very rarely.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.