There are many different types or species of wild lettuce however they are all in the 'Lactuca' genus, a member of the Asteraceae family. Lactuca refers to a flowering plant commonly known as lettuce, and the white milky like latex that it secretes. Is this like the lettuce found in the supermarket? Absolutely yes! There are no less than 50 species of wild lettuce, and all contain a certain compound that we will soon discuss.
Lactuca canadensis and Lactuca serriola are commonly found in North America along with Lactuca floridana. I'm sure you are clever enough to guess that floridana can be found heavily in Florida and throughout the South-east. Lactuca floridana and several other species have migrated to many areas from Onterio to Texas, in the western hemisphere, there is no shortage of the herb. Lactuca ludoviciana, Lactuca virosa and Lactuca quercina are other types of wild lettuce found all over North America.
Lactucarium is the white milk- like substance that flows in abundance throughout the entire plant briefly described above. In the 19th century wild lettuce became known for its sedative and pain relieving effects on patience. It was also used for a number of other conditions such as anxiety, kidney troubles and whooping cough. Applications of the herb as medicine are dried, smoked, eaten or tinctured.
Though store brought lettuce does contain lactucarium it has been bred for consumption, eliminating the bitter taste associated with the lactuca genus. It would be easy to identify a head of lettuce in your favorite supermarket, but how about in the wild?
Although there are several species of wild lettuce, lactucarium, the milky white, latex substance is common amongst them all. By scoring the main stem, or even tearing a leaf in half you should notice this excretion. Foraging with an experienced field guide is always recommended, however in this period of time it is easy to do a 3 point identification on any herb via phone app, google, and many other sources dedicated to foraging. A three point identification includes three different positive comparisons of the herb in question.
Young wild lettuce plants may resemble dandelion rosettes which may also secrete a milky sap but there is a distinguishable difference. Along the underside of the leaves of wild lettuce runs a spine of stiff bristles that become more prominent as the plant ages.
The herb grows erect with a single stem that can grow anywhere from 12" to 40". The leaves found on the elongated stem vary in appearance. They can be lobed or wavy margins with fine teeth and a deep lighter colored midvein on top, the forementioned bristles underneath. The base of the leaves clasps the stem and as a mature specimen produces many yellow flowers approximately 1/3" long. These flowers grow on a terminal stem that branches out supporting numerous cone shaped flower heads. When they are ready to seed the flower heads become white puff balls ready to be dispersed by the wind, also similar to dandelion.
Wild lettuce of the Lactuca virosa and Prickly Lettuce, or Lactuca serriola, variety are the ones that you want to use medicinally for the potency of constituents in these species. They are time tested by herbalist and have undergone limited research on their properties.
There are two ways that we like to process wild lettuce at Mossy Situation LLC. One is in tincture form (whole plant), and the other is the extra potent extract of only the latex. Extracting the latex produces a black tar like substance. We might discuss how to make these preparations at a later time but let's talk about Mossy's Wild Lettuce Tincture!
*Fun Fact* Wild lettuce as well as Laudanum was used by Harriet Tubman (a known herbalist) to keep babies sedated and quiet during journeys to the North!
Wild Lettuce Latex Extract
A tincture is an alcohol or vinegar extract of plant matter and its medicinal constituents. Unless you choose not to consume alcohol for religious, health, or chance of relapse concerns, there is no need to worry. After going through the extraction process the alcohol is used more for sterilization and preservation. Most tinctures contain less than 50% alcohol and the small amounts taken per dose make it insignificant.
When dealing with children or the elderly, a non-alcohol-based tincture would be suggested simply because of the potency of the preparation. Alcohol is the best agent to extract herbs in due to the number of useable compounds it can draw out that are not water soluble. Here at Mossy Situation, we use a well-balanced tincturing method that includes alcohol plus water to extract water soluble compounds and vegetable glycerin for further extraction. Vegetable glycerin also helps with preservation and tremendously lessens the burn from alcohol.
Our whole plant tincture is at a 1:4 ratio making it gentle and safe to use during the day without becoming drowsy. I would suggest one dealing with musculoskeletal pain, cough, or even asthma to take 2 to 3 full droppers 2 to 3 times daily to prevent or help alleviate symptoms. By no means should this tincture be used in place of other asthma medications or inhalers, but to use as a semi long term prevention method. For insomnia a suggestion would be 2 to 3 full droppers an hour after your last meal and then 2 to 3 full droppers every 2 to 3 hours until sleep is achieved, no more than 4 doses.
Mossy Situation LLC is an Herb Store/Apothecary, we are not medical professionals and suggest seeking a doctor's approval before using this or any other herbal remedy. We do not recommend using any of our products over a doctor's prescription. With the proper research and understanding of homeopathic treatments one can truly expect holistic healing by way of nature, the way our ancestors have done for centuries, and many do this very day. #Vibe High
MOSSY SITUATION LLC 2023
(All herbs, vegetable glycerin, tincture bottles and many other apothecary needs are available at MossySituation.com)
1) Wikipedia (Wild Lettuce Search)
2) Merriam-Webster (Wild Lettuce Search)
3) EatThePlant.org Hannah Sweet
4) commondensehome.com/wild-lettuce/ (Pic Credit)
5) Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (Prickly Lettuce) Bob Hartzler/Megan Anderson