Natural remedies, such as medicinal plants, have been used since ancient times to treat a variety of symptoms, including pain.Wild lettuce is a plant known for its pain-relieving properties. It is utilized by people interested in alternatives to conventional medications.Though wild lettuce may have several health benefits, many people are unaware of the adverse side effects that can occur from ingesting this plant.This article discusses the health benefits and potential dangers of wild lettuce.

What Is Wild Lettuce?


Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is native to many areas of the world, including North America, Europe and the Middle East.

This herb thrives in sunny locations, such as along riverbanks and roadsides, and can grow up to six feet (1.8 meters) in height.

Wild lettuce has bright green leaves which sprout from a green stem that is occasionally spotted purple.

When scratched, the plant secretes a milky, white substance known as lactucarium.

When dried, this compound resembles opium, a pain-relieving agent extracted from unripe seedpods of the opium poppy. Opium was commonly used as a pain reliever and sedative from ancient times into the 19th century.

Lactucarium may deliver similar effects as opium — but with fewer side effects.

In fact, wild lettuce is often referred to as “opium lettuce” due to its purported pain-relieving qualities


Historically, doctors used wild lettuce as a pain reliever and a treatment for conditions such as whooping cough, with research studies on its use dating as far back as 1815.

Today, there are many different wild lettuce products available, containing extracts of the plant’s seeds, leaves and milky sap.

These tinctures, powders, oils and pills are marketed to treat a range of conditions, including anxiety, breathing issues, poor sleep and joint pain.

What’s more, raw wild lettuce is sometimes consumed by foragers who collect and eat wild plants.

In addition, wild lettuce has psychoactive properties and is sometimes used recreationally by people looking for a natural buzz.


Summary The extract of wild lettuce seeds, leaves and sap are added to a number of natural products claiming to relieve a variety of health problems, such as pain and anxiety.

Wild lettuce extract, or lactucarium, has long been used to relieve pain.

Lactucarium contains lactucin and lactucopicrin, bitter substances that act on the central nervous system to produce pain-relieving and sedative effects

These compounds are considered sesquiterpene lactones, a group of beneficial substances most concentrated in plants belonging to the Asteraceae family — such as lettuce, calendula and chicory.

In fact, sesquiterpene lactones make up a large part of the milky substance lactucarium secreted by wild lettuce.

While many natural healthcare companies and homeopathic websites promote wild lettuce as a pain treatment, scientific evidence is lacking.

Few human studies have examined wild lettuce and pain relief.

However, some animal studies suggest that the compounds in wild lettuce extract may have impressive pain-relieving properties.

For example, a study in mice demonstrated that at doses of 7 and 13.5 mg per pound (15 and 30 mg per kg) of body weight, lactucin and lactucopicrin, combined, had comparable pain-relieving effects as 30 mg of ibuprofen.

However, animal studies on the pain-relieving properties of wild lettuce are limited.


Summary Though wild lettuce has been used since ancient times to treat pain, very little evidence supports its use in humans.

Aside from pain, wild lettuce is promoted as a natural treatment for a variety of conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Insomnia
  • Poor circulation
  • Restlessness
  • Urinary infections

It is also thought to have antibacterial properties when applied to the skin.

Though you can find information on the alleged healing qualities of wild lettuce on many alternative medicine websites, there is currently no scientific research to support its use to treat any of the above conditions.

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