As the opioid epidemic worsens, people are desperate for natural pain relief options. Wild lettuce has been used for millennia as a natural herbal pain reliever, and now survivalists are touting it as a form of morphine that grows in your backyard.
I’ve seen that catchy, click-bait headline a dozen times at least. “Wild Lettuce Works Like Opium!” Come on, can that possibly be true?
Trust me, I’d be all for a natural herbal pain reliever without nasty side effects or addiction. Nonetheless, I’m skeptical.
How does wild lettuce stand up to modern scientific testing? Time for a little research, and then I’ll try it out myself…for science.
Medicinal Benefits of Wild Lettuce
Let’s start with the basics. What are the supposed medicinal benefits of wild lettuce?
Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is used most commonly as a pain reliever, but it’s also purported to have impacts on specific conditions. It’s said to relax respiratory conditions such as whooping cough and asthma. Wild lettuce has sedative effects that have been used to treat all manner of issues ranging from generalized anxiety and hyperactivity to nymphomania.
It is also sometimes used topically to treat skin conditions and as a wound disinfectant.
Various sources say that it was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Some say it boosted the sex drive, and others say it was used to slow the sex drive. Regardless of the effect on the libido, all three ancient peoples record using wild lettuce as a pain reliever.
A catalog of medicinal plants from 1917 listed wild lettuce as “highly esteemed to quiet coughing and allay nervous irritation, a good safe remedy to produce sleep, to be used when opium and other narcotics are objectionable.” This was at a time when opium and cocaine were widely available and legal, and still, wild lettuce was seen as an effective alternative with fewer side effects.
Is Wild Lettuce Effective?
While it has a long history of use for pain relief, is it actually effective? There are a few modern scientific studies that tried to answer that exact question.
Wild lettuce is native to Iran and used in traditional medicine there.
A study at an Iranian medical center cites that “Lactucarium [wild lettuce sap] is a diuretic, laxative and sedative agent which relieves dyspnoea, and decreases gastrointestinal inflammation and uterus contractions. It has anticonvulsant and hypnotic effects as well. In addition, the lettuce contains traces of hyoscyamine, which is probably responsible for its sedative effects.”
As to its pain-relieving properties, a study in the journal of phytotherapy research found that a compound in wild lettuce known as lactucin has sedative effects in mice at relatively low doses (2mg/kg). In larger doses (15mg/kg), lactucin begins to have significant pain-relieving effects.
Another study confirmed these findings, noting that some pain-relieving effects could be documented at doses of (15 mg/kg). While that dosage produced the first noticeable effects, the active compounds in wild lettuce only became as effective as a standard dose of Ibuprofen at 30 to 60 mg per kg of body weight.
So it appears that extracts from wild lettuce sap actually do have pain-relieving properties! That said, they appear to be relatively mild and not exactly opium strength. All of these studies were done on extracted herbal compounds, and it’s possible that the whole herb has a synergistic effect with multiple compounds, but that hasn’t been specifically studied.
Wild lettuce Dosage
All of the studies investigating wild lettuce for pain relief were conducted using pure isolated lactucin rather than wild lettuce sap itself. One source says that the sap contains 50-60% lactucin, so dosages of sap would be roughly double that of the dosages noted in the studies.
The average adult in the US weighs about 80kg (~180lbs). Theoretically, they’d have to consume at least 30 mg per kg of body weight, or 2400 mg (2.4 g) of wild lettuce sap to experience the effects of ibuprofen. The herbalist Michael Moore estimates that a single 4-foot tall plant should yield about 2-3 grams of dried sap, or about a single dose.
One source suggests a dosage of 1.5 grams of dried sap brewed in a tea, or 0.25 grams of wild lettuce sap smoked in a pipe. The effects are supposed to be much more dramatic when smoked, thus the lower dosage.
It’s possible that the sap itself is more effective than the isolated lactucin compound, but I would imagine you’d still need to consume a good bit to reach opiate-like effects. At that point, you’re obviously risking potential side effects…
Wild Lettuce Side Effects
Though wild lettuce is supposedly safer than opium, it isn’t without side effects. One source lists the side effects as “nausea, vomiting, anxiety and dizziness.”
A medical paper written in 2009 describes the symptoms of 8 patients who had consumed wild lettuce and experienced toxic effects. It was a group of men ages 18-38 who consumed it together, so I doubt their motivations were pain relief.
The study doesn’t have any documentation on how much plant material they consumed, but it does note that they ate it in the wrong season. It was harvested in May, instead of in July/August, which may have impacted its toxicity.
The eight men experienced varied symptoms, including agitation, severe anxiety, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, hyperactivity, euphoria and loss of consciousness. All of them recovered in 1 to 3 days.
Since wild lettuce is getting lots of press as a substitute for opium, it was only a matter of time until someone tried to inject it intravenously. That’s not a traditional preparation, but clearly, that wasn’t a consideration in this case.
The study documents side effects including “fevers, chills, abdominal pain, flank and back pain, neck stiffness, headache, leucocytosis and mild liver function abnormalities.” Nonetheless, the patient recovered fully within 3 days.
At least thus far scientific literature hasn’t had a case where wild lettuce users managed to overdose in a manner that impacted them permanently, but just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t.
Identifying Wild Lettuce
Identifying wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) can be a bit tricky, as there are other related species that look quite similar.
Some people think it looks like a dandelion, and while I’d agree that the flowers are yellow, that’s about where the similarity ends. Dandelions produce leaves at the ground level in a rosette and send up flower stalks without leaves. Wild lettuce produces leaves all the way up the stalk, and the flowers aren’t quite the same.
Prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) on the other hand, is very similar to wild lettuce.
The main difference is in the leaves. Prickly lettuce has less rounded leaves with deep serrations at its edge. The stalk of prickly lettuce is stiffer and a bit woodier, but you’ll only really notice that if you have both plants side by side.
The stalk of real wild lettuce has a texture that’s a bit like the main rib on a romaine leaf. Use your thumbnail to try to puncture the stem and it should be soft and juicy like a romaine rib, though it doesn’t necessarily look anything like cultivated lettuce. The stalk can have a purple tint as well.
Once prickly lettuce and wild lettuce reach the flowering stage, the blossoms are pretty much identical. That leads to more confusion, so keep your eye on the leaves.
If you do accidentally harvest prickly lettuce by mistake it won’t hurt you. In fact, some herbalists say that prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) and wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) both have the same effects, but that prickly lettuce is milder.
Others site that prickly lettuce is especially good at relaxing your libido, which is anything but exciting. If you harvest prickly lettuce it may not relieve pain or provide an opiate high, but at least it won’t hurt anything more than your lover’s ego.
To the best of my knowledge, wild lettuce does not have any toxic look-alikes. That said, I’m always amazed at what people will manage to wishfully identify as the medicinal plant they’re hoping to find. Please be sure you’ve positively identified anything you’re wild harvesting, and use your best judgment.
I’ve made a short video comparing wild lettuce to prickly lettuce, and demonstrating the harvest method.
Wild Lettuce Look-Alikes
Besides prickly lettuce, which is also in the Lactuca genus and should also have mild pain-relieving properties, wild lettuce also has other look-alikes. It’s a bit trickier with common names used to describe plants rather than their Latin names.
I’ve heard a few sources that say Sow Thistle and Wild lettuce are look-alikes. We have a “sow thistle” here (Cirsium arvense) that looks nothing like wild lettuce, other than the fact that it has prickles. The flowers are purple (not yellow) and the growth form is completely different.
There is another plant called sow thistle (sonchus sp.) that is also edible and looks almost identical to wild lettuce. There’s a very detailed discussion of this and how to tell them apart in Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer and this coming summer I’m going to attempt to take very detailed photos and discuss the differences.
Samuel Thayer notes that sow thistle (sonchus sp.) looks almost identical to wild lettuce except for the spines on the midrib. He then goes on to say that sometimes the spines are almost non-existent or very hard to see depending on whether the plant is growing in sun or shade… making things even more confusing.
Harvesting Wild Lettuce
Wild lettuce is harvested over an extended period of time, by systematically decapitating wild lettuce stalks and bleeding the milky sap.
One modern author describes the process in detail,
“Decapitate 20 three-to-four-foot-tall plants by cutting all the flowers from each. Throw those away. Allow the milky sap to ooze out and dry a bit, then scrape it off into a bowl.
Taking shears in hand, snip another half-inch off the same stalk, allow the sap to bubble out and dry a bit, and scrape it off into a bowl. Continue until the plants are about a foot tall or so.”
Perhaps it’s due to our short summers, but I’ve never seen a wild lettuce plant taller than 2-3 feet. Since they’re starting a good bit shorter, I harvest them all the way down to the ground and get about the same amount of usable material as if I were harvesting a 4-foot plant.
That same author also suggests that since harvesting wild lettuce is a tedious task, that it’s “best conducted in company, like corn shucking, or alone in a manic episode of herbal fanaticism.”
Another author from the ’80s is a bit more colorful in his descriptions, “Figure a yield of 2-3 grams from a four-foot plant after it has been systemically bled until reduced to a one-foot-tall, headless pygmy and the latex dried down in a shady but breezy place until it resembles a mixture of butterscotch pudding, dried library paste, and tubercular phlegm.”
The traditional method used to harvest wild lettuce is tedious and time-consuming, but for good reason. Many modern guides will tell you to skip the traditional harvest methods altogether, opting to quickly chop or pull up the whole plant and stuff it into a blender. If you do that, you’re likely just wasting your time.
There is absolutely no reason to spend an hour carefully and painstakingly extracting wild lettuce sap a drop at a time unless that’s the only way that works. Our ancestors weren’t idiots, and if they could just chop a plant down and have instant opium they would have done it. They may not have known the exact reason for the slow bleed extraction method, but modern science has them covered.
Many plant-based medicines are produced by plants as a response to stress or predation. The tobacco plant is a great example. In a plant physiology course in college, I was surprised to learn that tobacco plants produce dramatically more nicotine when the plants are beaten or cut.
Nicotine is produced within the tissues as a natural pesticide, but it’s costly to make. Tobacco plants wait for signs of predation before producing nicotine in large quantities.
Since tobacco is such a commodity crop, there are numerous studies detailing the exact mechanisms. One such study notes that “after wounding of tobacco plants, roots synthesize a large amount of nicotine to be transported to the shoot.”
Without the injury, followed when a tobacco leaf is injured, it sends a chemical signal to the roots. The roots synthesize the nicotine and send it up to the shoot as a defense. If you just harvest the whole plant in one swift cut, there’s no time for the chemical cascade to happen.
I suspect that there’s a similar mechanism at work in wild lettuce. To test my theory, I started by harvesting a wild lettuce plant using the traditional methodology. That is, I cut it and waited for it to bleed out a glob of sap.
Then I harvested that before cutting it again an inch lower. If you’re really patient and it’s a tall plant the process can take a half an hour or more.
I then harvested a second plant with one cut right at the base. After that harvest, I tried to extract the sap. The first cut, at the top of the plant bled a bit, but the second cut didn’t even yield a single drop.
While quickly cutting down the whole plant may still have some medicinal effect, it seems like a waste. The plant doesn’t have time to synthesize its defense chemicals, and those very chemicals are what you’re after when harvesting wild lettuce.
When to Harvest Wild Lettuce
Gardeners know that domestic lettuce produces a milky sap once it’s gone to seed (bolted). That’s the point it turns bitter and starts putting every last bit of its energy into defending itself from predators as it tries to produce the next generation.
Wild lettuce is no different, and the best time to harvest it is right around the time of flowering. In the northern hemisphere, that happens in July and August.
Up here in Vermont, I saw the first flowers open the last week of July, and the plants will continue to mature in different locations through August. I harvested one plant down to the base early in the season, and about a week later it already has side shoots that are 8 inches high. I expect I may be able to re-harvest from the same plant later this year, hopefully doubling the yield.
Wild lettuce is a biennial, meaning that it flowers at the end of its second year of life. In the first year, the plant focuses on establishing itself and only produces a low-growing rosette of leaves.
The full flower stalk isn’t produced until the second year. Keep that in mind if you identify young plants, or if you’re planning on growing wild lettuce from seed.
Preparing Wild Lettuce for Medicinal Use
So assuming you’ve gone through the painstaking and time-consuming traditional method of harvesting wild lettuce. Even if you’ve done as traditional sources suggest, and harvested from 20 or more plants, you’re still looking at a pitifully small amount of wild lettuce sap. Wild lettuce is thus far completely legal in the United States, to the best of my knowledge, so feel free to experiment responsibly with different preparations to see if they work for you.
How do you prepare wild lettuce sap for use as medicine?
Wild Lettuce Tea
While some blogs will tell you to simply make a tea from wild lettuce leaves, the pain-relieving compounds are not water-soluble (source). Apparently, wild lettuce tea is pleasant tasting, but I can’t imagine that’d be true.
The plant itself tastes horrible, and even the thought of extracting the bitter leaves in boiling water turns my stomach a bit. The fact that wild lettuce tea is unlikely to have pain-relieving compounds present means that I’m not even going to bother with this one.
If you’d like to try wild lettuce as a tea, the dried leaves can be purchased here. If you’d like to try making wild lettuce tea from backyard plants, harvest some of the leaves and then dry them to preserve them for tea.
Wild Lettuce Tincture
While Lactucarium isn’t water-soluble, it is alcohol-soluble. That makes a wild lettuce tincture a great way to use this herb. Assuming the maker of the tincture went through the painstaking harvest protocol and then dissolved the extracted wild lettuce sap in a high-proof alcohol for preservation.
There is one brand sold online that is extremely well-reviewed, and users say that a single dropper full is very effective and begins working after about an hour. The manufacturer recommends 3 doses of a dropper full a day, the final dose at bedtime. Several reviewers mention that they’re using it to successfully manage nerve pain from Lyme disease, which I hadn’t even considered.
While the sap is commonly collected onto a plate of some kind and then dried before being dissolved in alcohol before use, I attempted to harvest the sap directly into a cup of vodka. The sap seemed to readily dissolve right off the plant stem, and hopefully, this skips the tedious drying step. The only risk is that the drying step may volatilize off some part of the plant, or change the medicine in some way.
Wild Lettuce Beer
Since the herbal constituents are alcohol soluble, a medicinal ale is another homemade method to try. The book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers includes descriptions and a recipe in its section on “psychotropic and highly inebriating beers.”
The recipe includes 1 gallon of water, 12 ounces molasses, 8 ounces brown sugar, 1 ounce prepared wild lettuce sap, and an ale yeast fermented until all activity stops (about 6-8 weeks). The brew is then bottled and bottle aged for 2 weeks before drinking.
The author notes that this beer seems to only affect some people, leading him to believe that the opiate-like effects of wild lettuce may not work for everyone. He also speculates that some of the effects are perhaps related to hopeful drinkers that want to hallucinate.
That said, he believes that given “its long use in indigenous cultures throughout the world for pain relief indicates that it can be reliably used as a feeble opiate for some people. There is some indication that, like many herbs fermented in ales and beers, this opiate-like activity is enhanced during brewing.”
Since this recipe requires prepared Lactucarium, it’s best made with wild lettuce sap that you harvest yourself. In a pinch, you can try making this by adding dried leaves directly to the fermentation vessel as you would dry hop a beer.
Wild lettuce is useful in brewing because it has the same bittering activity as hops, so even if it’s not an opiate it’s still a good wild foraged hops substitute for preserving homemade beer. Any extra pain-relieving properties would just be icing on the cake at that point.
Testing Wild Lettuce
It’s time to take wild lettuce for a test drive. I have no personal history with opioids or any pain reliever of any sort stronger than an over-the-counter ibuprofen. I harvested 2 plants using the traditional method and extracted their sap into 1 ounce of 80-proof vodka.
The taste was better than I expected. Not good, but not nearly as bad as I’d imagined. Quite bitter, and it actually tasted ever so slightly like lettuce.
After about 5 minutes, I was struck by some pretty intense nausea. It lasted roughly 10 minutes, but it was intense enough that it got me worried.
After a round of strong belching, which is not normal for me, the nausea subsided. I do get an upset stomach if I take an Ibuprofen on an empty stomach, and I did have an empty stomach.
Hopefully eating something before trying wild lettuce tincture would prevent nausea. That said, nausea is one of the listed side effects, and if that level of nausea happened every time I’d be pretty disappointed. That said, lacking an over-the-counter pain reliever, I’d probably brave nausea for the pain-relieving effects.
About a half-hour after taking the wild lettuce tincture, I began to feel pain-relieving effects. It also seemed to improve my mood, and I was suddenly both comfortable and laid back.
The effects lasted about 3-4 hours, and I’d estimate it was similar to an over-the-counter ibuprofen or two. The effects were considerably stronger than the willow bark I harvested to use as a herbal aspirin.
Was it opium? Nope. But it was calming and pain-relieving, and definitely worth the effort.
That’s my experience, and I am by no means a doctor or a medical professional. Obviously, use your own best judgment anytime you’re attempting to self-medicate.
There have not been any studies testing drug interactions, so be very careful if you’re on other medications. As with any plant, there’s always the risk of allergy or strange one-off reaction.
Do you have any experience with wild lettuce? I’d love to know about it in the comments below.
I just harvested a lot of wild lettuce plants, about 30. I cut them to the ground, pulled the leaves off to dry, then I cut the stem into 1″ pieces and filled a canning jar with them, covered them in 80 proof vodka. They have been sitting for a couple weeks, that’s my tincture. I use it for pain, but have been unsure of dosage, I take it after dinner so haven’t had nausea from it. I think it helps with pain, I also make an elderberry tincture that helps with back pain. Tinctures are quick and easy to make and use.
How long have you been using this tincture? it sounds great is love to try it out
I have bought tea bags at Bed bath, & Beyond,dried out the leaves of lactusa virosa and while suffering from obnoxious head colds last Winter ,I simply poured boiling water into a cup over a tea bag full of dried leaves.let steep for 15 min added honey, and. was pleasantly surprised at the smile that went from ear to ear .making tea is a great idea. tho,,one can get used to it, and need to make it stronger also, if you’re fortunate enough to find a plant w/ sap , it will later turn into a soft white ,cottony substance which when chewed, produces a mild euphoria. a razor blade will extract it from the stalk.good for headaches, which BTW, seem to be caused sometimes from smoking it .I don’t smoke it unless I want to sleep.
It’s good to know the tea works, I’ve had that feedback from a number of people. Thanks!
You are so brilliant, I’m def gonna follow you! I’m big in nutrition and holistic health. I watch a lot of Dr Axe and make my own products w/ essential oils. I absolutely love studying and consuming herbs. Every year I plant an herb garden w/ 0% success haha. I have the brownest thumb in the world. I love Orchids. I’ve killed every one. I can even kill peace Lilly. The only success I have is Lucky Bamboo and Cactus. I even managed to kill my aloe. And I’m super sweet to my plants and family. I baby them just like I do my son and my cats haha.
I’m a. Young but Retired (17 years) Kinesiology Professor at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. I taught health and wellness and nutrition as well. I just wish I knew all you do about harvesting. We have always had a huge successful veggie garden for 25 years but only if I don’t touch it (my hubby is a science teacher).
Thanks for sharing.
Please email me w/ any other info as in your research, you tube channel etc. thank you. Jenni
You have a great article here–tons of great info ! However, a few of the photos look more like sow thistle than lettuce–out here in Oregon they both appear in many versions and look so similar that I used to confuse them, till I learned that wild lettuce had spines underneath the leaf and is rarely ruffly and superspiny on the edges. And sow thistle flowers 6-8 weeks earlier ( late spring) whereas wild lettuce waits till midsummer. Then more sow thistles have appeared and flower too. Making it rather confusing late in the summer.
My apologies if I am making assumptions and misreading your photos, but I urge you to point out the differences between these lookalikes….citing a more educated source than myself 🙂
Thank you so much! I’ve had a few people tell me that sow thistle is a look alike, and we have a type of sow thistle (Cirsium arvense) out here that looks nothing like it. Each time I think, well I guess they’re both spikey…but that’s as far as the similarity goes. I just read a really wonderful write up on identifying wild lettuce in Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer and he discusses a look-alike called sow thistle (sonchus sp.) that looks almost identical to wild lettuce except for the spines on the midrib. He then goes on to say that sometimes the spines are almost non-existent or very hard to see, making things even more confusing. I didn’t know about this sow thistle species, and other than in Nature’s Garden, I didn’t find any info online about telling the two species apart.
Next summer I’m going to go out with this guide book in hand and do a really close look at ours and see if I can update this article with some very detailed photos, not only for myself but because clearly there’s some confusion out there on the internet in general.
Thanks so much for this, you helped me learn something new today =)
Ime cow/bull thistle is very very spikey as in needing gloves to handle it. I let one go for pollinators this year and have found a few in first year stage. I took it down before all the heads seeded out to help control them. It was handled very carefully and still poked. The smaller ones were just as pokey as the second year plants. There should not be much confusion once you have handled them.
If purchasing the dried herb, can it be used in the same way, or must it be fresh due to the sap… I think the dried wild lettuce herb can be purchased thru starwest.
Since posting this article I’ve heard from plenty of people that just use the dried wild lettuce herb and find it to be effective. I have not used it personally.
I’ve used just the leaf myself and both work. I harvested leaf from first year plants.
Introduced to wild lettuce one year ago. Found some plants locally and pulled them out and followed a recommended process to make a paste. Took a long time to cook it down. So much so, that I was sure no potency remained. Yet, stored it into a jar. Now I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. After a full day of yard work I was in so much pain i Could hardly move. soaked in a hot shower and feebly made it onto the couch, where i writhed in pain and could not get comfortable.
My wife made dinner, but I had no appetite. The pain was awful. I managed to drag myself into the kitchen, poured a glass of ice tea and added a tablespoon of the paste. Expected nothing. In fact, as i slowly dropped to sit I was of the conviction that was where I would have to sleep because I could not imagine getting up. Within 20 minutes there was an swift sensation of relief from pain. NOT pain FREE. Yet the degree to which I felt pain had diminished to such measure my wife was shocked when I walked into the room holding a tray of food and all with fluid movement and no grunts and groans.
Next, my wife suffers from migraines. TRUE migraines. Can last for days. Upon one setting in I immediately made her a tea containing a tablespoon of paste. In less then half an hour there was a remarkably noticeable improvement in her overall demeanor. Relaxed, comfortable and the migraine nearly gone before it could get worse.
Not scientific. But I do not care. Wild lettuce works for us. And has on other occassions as well for various ailments.
No more OTC meds for us.
That’s really wonderful, and I’m impressed at how quickly that worked for you.
How did you process it. I am simmering some right now in a bottle of homemade red wine I have no other use for because I read wild lettuce is soluble in alcohol. Any suggestions would be helpful.
So sorry for a year delay. Hope this finds you. Ok, so I have learned that harvesting wild herbs is a lot like cooking meat to proper temp. Watch the plant. When wild lettuce begins to flower it is at its most potent. Doesn’t matter May, June or July. You see flowers, harvest.
Next, I agree, blending isn’t necessary. The Indians didn’t have blenders so WHY use one now. I begin by selecting stalks with the most flowers and simply yank them out root and all. I then cut off flowers and let dry for seed or have even planted right into new ground. And this year yielded a huge amount of lettuce. Next i strip the leaves then chop the stalk into one inch pieces. Now, when the plant is ready as such, sap will sprout everywhere, so I might then slice the stalk length wise to expose more sap.
Next I place into a large pot and fill with water just to cover and set the stove for medium. Today I am covering the pot for the first time to reduce evaporation. May not matter but no harm.
I proceed to slow cook until liquid looks brownish. Now the hard part. Straining the concoction. I have been using large coffee filters and gloves. I place filter over the top of another pot and use a rubber band to hold in place and slowly pour into the filter and remove rubber band and squeeze remaining liquid out. Very messy if not carefully done.
Once plant material is removed I then place the second pot back on the stove and cook it down until thick. This part is the most time consuming because you do not want high heat or it burns the lacterium and reduces potency. And you must stir regularly. Once I reach the point where it appears to have thickened I strain it again into a jar. I use jars that once had bee pollen honey. Let it sit until room temp then store in the fridge. Why the fridge? Because it preserves the mixture longer. First time I let it sit out and mold developed. It wasn’t a proper seal for storing.
The cooking times vary. For the first cook I normally find approx half an hour is needed. The second as I said takes longer and needs watching and stirring. So today my wife is making homemade chicken soup. I’m making wild lettuce paste and home made bread to go with the soup so it is a well worked day overall. Which is highly suggested to be doing when you are cooking down wild lettuce.
When I use this paste it is simple. I pour a tablespoon or two into a glass of say, iced tea stir and drink.
I have R.A. and at times when it is very bad this alone will reduce the pain significantly. NOT pain FREE. But I am able to function at a normal pace. And as I stated last, my wife has found this prevents severe migraines from happening when she first begins to notice one coming on.
I have given this others with arthritis, muscle pains from working, colds and congestion and each one has asked for more because of the relief. Hope this can help anyone interesting in exploring using wild herbs for health.
I have to refer to Euell Gibbons here. Herbs most likely are NOT remedies per se’, though many can help when needed.
However, when taken with regularity as part of our diet, they can quite likely, and IMHO definitely will improve overall health due to the nutritional content of the herbs themselves. So research and eat more. You won’t be sorry.
Hello. Thanks for your post. One question before i try out your process. Now when u say paste, is the finished product viscous or liquidy? Im sorry if already stated but i would like to get this right. Thanks.
Wow, sound amazing.. My mum has Arthritis, looking for a natural pain relief rather than tablets.
how did you make it into a paste?
Yeah, how did you make it into a paste?
he posted Paste directions right there ^ ^ above ^ ^ in the lonnnnng comment .. it gives step-by-step detail on how he did it .. personally, I’d rather go to the store and buy IBU .. much easier ! but this knowledge is good to have .. ThanQ !!
Simple tea does seem to work. I thought peoples mention of smoking (and or vaping in my case) was a pipe dream so to speak but nope. I got a bit of relief from a small bowl or two either way. Its more of a relaxant maybe than a painkiller bit ill take it. Now with this artical and some others I want to try a few methods of extraction, concentration, simple use and collecting. If it works along with diabetes and for sleep and stomach problems it could become a mainstay in our medicine cabinet.
Would you mind sharing with me how to make it?
I to suffer from migraines.
Thanks and May GOD BLESS you and yours.
My email is email@example.com
Can you tell me how you made the paste what part of the plant did u cook down and such?
My husband has bad back pain. He is a truck driver so he has to be very careful of what he takes. My question is will wild lettuce show up on a drug test.
To the best of my knowledge, it will not show up on a drug test because it’s not a prohibited drug. I wouldn’t want to stake someone else’s job on that because I’m not an expert on drug test, but I’d take it personally even if I had a drug test coming up without worrying about it. The thing is, it can make you really sleepy, and some people take it to go to sleep. I’d see how he reacts to it before taking it while driving, I’d hate for him to be sleepy at the wheel.
There is no codeine or opiates. Will not show up in a drug test
Joel M. Brower III
Did you ever recieve an answer for that question? I have been considering this as well, and I don’t want to fail a drug test.
No, it will not show up on a standard screen.
No, it doesn’t show up on the test I’m required to take as a pain patient.
Barbara L Woodall
As an old timer in the Appalachian Mountains, this works
I make a balm.. chop in a blender, heat (never boil) for .30 min.
Strain, heat again until condensed. Mix with cold cream, coconut oil etc..
Do you add any liquid?
Not in making a balm beyond whatever extraction technique you used. You would take your dried or syrupy product and add the beeswax or olive oil depending on if you wanted a semi solid or oil rub (or internal) . Look up making salves or balms.
what do you mean when you say cold cream?
I think she means Pond’s cold cream – it’s the only one I know. It is an old (but still available) creamy facial cleanser. If you google ‘pond’s cold cream’ you can find the product – it’s available at many drug stores and online.
Barbara I would love to know how you harvest do you cut out at the base and use the whole plant? when it is in flower?
I have grown some and it is in flower now
When you cut open the stem/stalk of the wild lettuce, what is the white soft material that lines the walls of the stalk and does it have medicinal value?
Any answers yet from your question? I was wondering the same thing
I am not exactly sure what that is called or if it has any medicinal benefits. I am only familiar with the sap of the plant being used. If you find out, please come back and let us know.
Thanks for this article. Very informative and helpful! What would you say were the proportions of sap to alcohol in your homemade tincture? And how much did you take?
It was about a shot of alcohol, and I used the sap from a single mature plant in flower.
So glad I found your blog. I’ve been searching the web for weeks trying to identify the single 9 foot tall plant growing next to my garage. So far everything seems to point to it being lactuca virosa. I just moved to Central Vermont a couple of years ago and I’m trying to learn about the benefits of the natural plants. This possible virosa has captured my attention simply because of its 9 foot height. It’s held my attention because of the possible medicinal benefits. A cut leave does produce that milky latex liquid. As of today, this one plant has sent out several side stalks and the tips of all the stalks are budding.
I’ve so many questions, I’m not sure where to begin. But I guess the most important might should I not disturb the plant until after it flowers? If can cut off a few leaves, what might be the best way to prep the plant for testing its medicinal effects?
I recommend checking out You Tube channel TN Tanya Neill. She’s great and teaches us all about medicinal plants especially wild lettuce. She will answer your questions in the comment section usually the same or next day. She’s a very nice Christian woman and I can’t say enough good about her. Her videos show the plants. She grows them in her back yard. I hope this helps you a lot. I know it will.
Brilliant article thank you! I’m studying medical herbalism and this has really helped me.
After experiencing a neck injury with bulging discs, arthritis and nerve damage, i often find myself in too much pain to sleep well. After several weeks of this, i am miserable and just about useless. In desperation during an extended period of painful sleepless nights, i chopped up about 12″ of a wild lettuce plant and threw it in a pot with some water. I brought it to a gentle boil and let it steep about 10 minutes then strained the plant debris, sweetened with raw honey and drank about 5 ounces (thats all i could choke down!). Within 20 minutes, i was in a deep sleep and practically drooling on myself. When i woke up 4 hours later, i was not in any pain. When i woke again after 2 more hours of amazing restful sleep, i was just slightly achy and was able to get yet another 45 minutes of slumber. I swear by this stuff! It has helped me immensely and i definitely did not take care to harvest or process meticulously lol
Where can I purchase a tincture that works for the meantime while I order some seeds? Does the tea actually work or is the tincture better?
I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and lower back and knee pain!! I am 42 and I became a lineman at 30 to support my kids as a single mom, I’m only 5’1 and had to carry a 28’ span latter and climbed the utility poles for about 10 years. I was also shocked with electrical current and I think everything has hurt my body 🥴. I take prescription pills and I am sick of them and hate being dependent on them to function. If I don’t take anything I am stiff and can barely move. I am only 42 and shouldn’t be this way. I am hoping this works but don’t have the money to spend on a product that doesn’t work. Do you have any links to the ones that can work till I grow some? I’m not sure if it grows here in the high desert of Southern California…..PLEASE let me know
So sorry to hear what you’re going through! That sounds truly rough, and I really hope the wild lettuce helps you.
I’m not a health professional by any means, but based on the research I did to write this article, the tincture is supposed to be better. There are plenty of places to buy it online, or you can try a local organic grocery. Others have commented on here that they use the tea and it works really well for them, so really it maybe just finding something that works for you.
Be careful in any case, as I’ve seen warnings that you shouldn’t operate machinery after taking it, as it impacts some people more than others. I’d really ask your doctor (or a licensed naturopath if your doctor doesn’t know about alternative therapies) before trying anything for the severe pain you’re describing. I wish you the best of luck either way.
Sadly most Drs would immediately tell you not to try it and that it couldn’t work without all the scientific data to back it up. Sometimes this causes them to miss really good medicines because of their training and biases. Just speaking from experience here with many more natural products that work for me but they would never sanction. Just a rant really but Drs do not know it all.
I have been hearing a lot of great things about moringa for arthritis. It has a lot of other great health benefits as well. I have the powder and just throw it in a drink. I don’t have arthritis, but I do get back pain and this seems to be helping.
Try mullein it has been a god send for my bulging disks, and relieved my joint pain, in 3 days.
What part of the mullein do you use and how are you using it? Thanks!
You said it wasn’t like opium, but above also wrote you haven’t tried opioids. So, how can you say it wasn’t like opium? 🙂
Excellent point. What I meant by that is that it was incredibly mild, and not the “knock you on your butt” feeling of incapacitation that is described for opioids.
A big hattip to you, Ashley, for one of the best articles I have ever seen on this topic (and I think I have read them all)!
Newbies who may want to take the guesswork out of proper plant identification – grow your own crop of Wild Lettuce from seed: https://strictlymedicinalseeds.com/product/lettuce-wild-lactuca-virosa-seeds-organic/
Thank you Grizzlyette Adams for posting your source for the wild lettuce seeds. I’ve ordered from this company for years and they are great. The owner’s books are worth getting too as he deals only with medicinal herbs (Richo Cech is his name.) I’ll have to get the wild lettuce seeds next.
We all need to learn about plants & how to use them for our daily needs & resources.
I used as salad alone or with tomatoes or cucumber I lik`It never gave mi a side effect and my stomic just lik`it and the muscles seems to become more elastic mine are organic pollution free
STEVEN L KEMP
Has anybody used the extract…how is it used? as a tea? or do you have to make a tincture with it?
Don’t know if the effectiveness varies by type, but I’ve searched for it this morning and found it in a tincture (iHerb) and in capsule (Walgreens). I haven’t found a tea yet.
Back again…Amazon has a nice selection of teas, tinctures, and capsules and much more reasonably priced than the previous site I provided.
I’ve used concentrated capsules (best but little pricey) and also some tea and even surprisingly smoking or vaping worked as well. I wasn’t aure about that till I tried it. No you’re not going to get high or anything just relaxed which helped with pain and anxiety to some extent.
Love this I am an avid forager and have used this plant for many things . I make an arthritic rub out of it glad I found your blog. I also live in VT !!!
Like your post,yes wild lettuce works, but it doesn’t stop the pain just makes a lot less uncomfortable,i am very skeptical about natural treatments,this works for me, just started making tinctures last year, but this i cooked down took 10hrs,lactuca serriola works but virosa is better, do not boil!!! i have some tincture steeping haven’t tried yet,plants i found were 8 to 9 feet tall i live in MD, when you find the right plant you will know, I’ve read multiple posts,wild lettuce is the only one that bleeds white sticky sap?? when cut or leaf is broke off, I’m impressed that this works, dosage is what works for you,start small, I’m not giving medical advice, not a doctor or pharmacist, not licensed, just use commen sense,this plant works
Thanks for sharing.
I’ve found the serriola in my yard after I planted the virosa. Ive looked for it before but was expecting a larger plant. These are like 6 in tall and flowering already. Glad to know it is there. I am excited about having stronger and more quantity to experiment with. I will be trying as many ways of extraction and concentration as I can. I saw the video in the woman’s response about mixing the alcohol with the next heating. Id also like to do at least a little of the actual bleeding of the sap and collecting it then tincture. Just thinking a cleaner extraction without extra plant compounds in it. Maybe concentrat that onto some dry leaf for capsuls or something.
My experiment was blending up a 5 foot plant in 8 oz of water. Then squeezed the pulp out and chugged the liquid. I did for 3 consecutive days. It made me sleepy and relaxed. Tasted gross but did not hurt my stomach. The second day I noticed my jaw had stoped popping out. Which had been happening for a month previous many times a day. Haven’t had any since 9 months ago, still the popping has not returned. I didn’t know it was going to fix that! My research was recreational. I didn’t eat anymore because I didn’t like how sleepy I was.
That’s very interesting. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Thank you for a great article!
Where can I find the video comparing wild lettuce to prickly lettuce, and demonstrating the harvest method? I tried making an extract from leaves, but found no medicinal effect. I do wonder if it was prickly lettuce or rocket instead… Am trying a new batch from another patch of plants now. Haven’t tried extracting the sap yet.
This is a most excellent, information filled article — thank you! I am growing wild lettuce from seed this year, so I guess I won’t be able to use it until n ext year? In the meantime, I purchased dried wild lettuce (aerial portions) from Mtn Rose Herbs, thinking I’d make a tincture for pain relief for my all over arthritis. I was sad to see that it is the milky sap in the stalk that is used for pain relief! So I have an 8 oz. bag of dried aerial parts of wild lettuce — what do I do with it? If I tincture it, will it help with pain relief since it is the leaves? I look forward to your response. Thank you!
You can tincture it or make a wild lettuce tea!
The herbal portions work too, at least for me. Not a waste id say as i wanted to test it first myself. Id bet it could be even better doing it yourself. You can use some leaves like “cut and come again” or harvest a good portion but leave the crown of the plant intact just before cold fall weather going into winter.
I mistakenly harvested my plants at the bud stage- do you feel that harvesting too early is dangerous (toxic) in any way? The plants were producing sap, although not as much as now (flowering). I processed using a recipe from the herbalist 7song in Ithaca NY. He chops and pulverizes the aerial parts with Everclear (95%A) and then concentrates it by making another batch using 1/2 of the pervious menstrum as 50% of the liquid (new Everclear for the rest) . He is conducting research with this method similar to what you are doing. I am going to try your method as well.
I don’t think this plant is dangerous or toxic at any stage (to the best of my knowledge), but it is less potent when young. I’ve eaten young leaves as salad greens, but they lose that as they get older, eventually being very bitter at flowering. If anything, it might be slightly less potent, maybe, but I’d assume still wonderful medicine as far as I know.
When I was weeding the front flowerbed. I decided to keep the wild lettuce weeds & experiment for myself.well first I just ate a leaf. It was tolerable. would have been better with some ranch LOL I did some scraping of the inside of the stems. I finally found some of that white sap and stick small slices in some weed tincture i already have. letting it soak a while. I blended stems a few leaves three in a grape fruit & apple juice. well I topped it with tang I admit because it totally camouflaged the bitterness. Poured in a small glass. scared to try too much. But I am feeling calm and happy an my pain is tolerable. although I did take a Tylenol ibuprofen combo earlier. I imagine that this concoction would be much better for ones liver!! Glad I finally took the leap! 🙂
Thanks for sharing! Sounds like an interesting concoction!
has anyone tried it as an alcohol liniment? topically? thinking of trying it with isopropyl alcohol 99%.
I harvested some wild lettuce in late May, not knowing it was too early. I did not use the traditional method. I just harvested the leave and stalks, cut them in little pieces. I let them dry and then placed in a mason jar.
After reading this article, I’m a bit afraid to make a tincture of it. Should I toss what I have and wait till next year or will it be ok if I make a tincture?
Ashley mentioned in another comment that some people have used the dried lettuce herb effectively. This is a totally different preparation than what is discussed in this article so it may not apply the same. I would research some articles on those who have used the dried herb and see what their recommendations are.
I have 3 batches of prickly lettuce but after reading here it might be wild lettuce. Picture This app on my phone shoed prickly lettuce. Anyway. I tincture them and 2 jars have cloudy water and 1 jar does not. It is in 80 proof alcohol. Collected the herb in the same area. What does it mean that is cloudy?
Hi, I just found out that it is safe, because the cloudiness is from pollen.
I suspect that making a tea out of domestic lettuce stalk (the bottom of the lettuce usually thrown out) would have a much more mold but possibly chronically effective effect. That is a mere suspicion and not medical advice. But for those who do their research and are experimenters, could prove productive. I am of the school that chronic and mild is over time more sustainable and effective. This is the kind of herb usage you might not notice until several weeks in.
THIS IS AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE. THANKS, ASHLEY ! ADVICE TO NEWBIES: READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE CAREFULLY. IT CONTAINS MOST OF THE ANSWERS TO FOLKS’ QUESTIONS. JUST SCANNING, YOU WILL MISS A LOT. GO BACK, TAKE YOUR TIME, & YOU WILL PROBABLY FIND THE ANSWER. GOOD LUCK!
I have been eating what I assumed was wild lettuce from my backyard. I’ve eaten it in salads, smoothies, made it into tea….The plant I have looks more like your sow thistle above; yet on one plant, both styles of leaves appear. Maybe I’ll back off for now.
You definitely want to be sure of the identification of any wild plants before you eat them. Consult several different sources, do your research and if possible consult an expert that is local to you and that can see the plant in person to verify.
I have been using Lactuca virosa for about a year now. I take my cut plant, stem and leaves, and put it in a blender with water. I blend it up until its roughly cut. I then add it to a crock pot and let it simmer for at least 24 hours. I add water to the mixture if it seems too dense. I let it cook down until the plant looks well done. I do NOT let it boil though. Just a light simmer. I then strain the plant from the liquid and put back into the crock pot and cook it down more until it is liquid enough to put in a dropper bottle but not like a resin or paste. I usually don’t have enough plants to make that much. Once the liquid has cooked down to a thick liquid I let it cool and add 80 – 100 proof vodka. I usually do a 4-1 ratio – 4 parts tincture and 1 part vodka. I add the vodka for preservation not for extraction. I then store it in a dropper bottle in the fridge. You can add it to other liquids or just put it under your tongue for 30 seconds then swallow with water or juice. It usually works within about 20 minutes.
Thank you so much for this article Ashley! Not only was it very informative but it was a very fun read! I suffer from three ruptured discs in my lower back and I am a CNA by trade. It’s super painful and some days it hurts even just to sit up out of bed. 😢I recently have lost my medical insurance and have been barely getting by. I recently spoke to a wonderful woman on a foraging site on Facebook who told me that she had just made a batch of wild lettuce tincture a couple of weeks ago, she very graciously offered me some of her tincture that she had made to try. Not only that but this wonderful woman even shipped it to me. I just got it in the mail today and I’m excited to try it tomorrow morning! (I figured I would wait until morning because I do have allergies and I’m not 100% sure that it isn’t ragweed that causes it.)
You’re very welcome. I hope you’re able to find some relief.
Great article. I’ve not tried wild lettuce but we do grow opium plants in UK. Although it’s not legal to harvest poppy by cutting them. Not that it matters because for 3 yrs now I’m convinced I don’t have the knack/skill to bleed them!
Sounds like even I can make the tincture from your recipe tho so am going to,try. If possible I’ll update post after trying. Since it’s August i reckon it will be next yr unless I can find some growing in my area…maybe since that’s how I found the opium.
I was hurt in auto accident in my Sheriffs cruiser & am left with back and sciatic pain. Be great to take something better on my liver than pain pills.
BTW Ashely, I lived in Barton VT for 10 yrs from 2001-2011. Beautiful country!
Thanks for your time
I’m sorry to hear about your accident. I hope you are successful with the tincture. Be sure to come back and update us.
Although you specify vodka as your liquid, I think any alcohol would be efficacious. So, why not use rum or brandy or whiskey, all of which have some flavor to mask the wild lettuce flavor.
Yup, that’s totally fine too. We make brandy, rum, and even gin tinctures depending on the type. I’m not sure any of them mask the flavor in this case though. Some tinctures are just never going to taste good. The ones that come to mind are reishi, echinacea, yellow dock, and this one for sure.
I recently made a tea with it. I took 4 fresh leaves I rolled into balls in my tea holder, heated to 175° and let it sit for 30 minutes brewing. Then I took my pestle and pressed the remaining juices out into the tea. I also had a bag of green tea in there and added a little honey. Made approximately .5 liters. I drank the entire amount. Within 15 to 20 minutes my face was numb and I felt very relaxed. Shortly after I was asleep in the recliner and had a good night’s rest.
I wonder if agitating or crumpling the leaves the second year will help produce more or a more potent plant blood.
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I always appreciate people who give of themselves helping others with their research etc. I have gleaned a lot of info here. But I have a question about long-term storage. I see you say it (?) can be stored in the fridge for a few days but can it be frozen for long term use or dried to be used later. I don’t have any pain as some of the above folks do but one never knows. Thanks and God Bless You.
You could try freezing it but I don’t know if that will affect how the sap comes out. If you are going to dry it, it’s best to extract the sap and dry just the sap.