So what is Wild lettuce? Wild lettuce is the bitter cousin to the common lettuce that you find in your local supermarket. It is sometimes added to salads containing lettuce to add a more distinct flavor. The three main species of this group of lettuce are; Lactuca virosa, Lactuca canadennis, and Lactuca serriola. Lactuca virosa is the species most commonly used as a medicinal herb. The history of Wild lettuce can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. Min, the Egyptian God of fertility, is depicted holding a flower of Wild Lettuce. The Egyptians often used this Herb as an aphrodisiac.


The Romans also used Wild lettuce as a medicinal herb often as an analgesic. Augustus was said to raise a statue in the honor of Wild Lettuce when his physician prescribed it to him when he was extremely ill and near death. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder also known as Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 AD – 79 AD) wrote extensively of Lactuca in his work Naturalis Historia.

Wild lettuce has been used for many years as an analgesic and antitussive agent since its modern discovery by Kore in 1792. Lactucarium, a powdered extract made from the milky fluid secreted by the plant was prescribed in Poland during the nineteenth century and was used as an alternative to opium although weaker but lacking the side effects of opium. It is described in the 1898 United States Pharmacopoeia and 1911 in the British Pharmaceutical Codex for use in lozenges, tinctures, and syrups as a sedative for irritable cough or as a mild hypnotic (sleeping aid) for insomnia. It was even prescribed to calm “irritable” children. It was produced by pharmaceutical companies until about the 1940’s.

Lactucarium is called lettuce opium because of its sedative and analgesic properties but it contains no opium or narcotics. Nor does it produce significant respiratory depression or constipation associated with opium and opium derivatives. During the early 1970s a rumour circulated throughout the country that you could extract opium from lettuce. Many flower children were disappointed when they found out it wasn’t true.

Chemical mode of Activity

The active ingredients of Lactucarium are believed to be lactucin and its derivatives lactucopicrin and -dihydrolactucin, which have been found to have analgesic activity equal or greater to that of ibuprofen in standard hot-plate and tail-flick tests of sensitivity to pain in laboratory mice. Lactucin and lactucropicrin were also found to have sedative activity in measurements of spontaneous movements of the mice.

The most interesting research is that lactucin and lactucropicrin are probable enkephalinase inhibitors. Enkephalins are the molecules that our central nervous system produces that act as natural analgesics. Enkephalinase are natural enzymes that break down enkephalins. Thus Wild lettuce acts as a enkephlin “uptake” inhibitor producing a temporary increase in the amount of the body’s own analgesics.

In the Journal Current Drug Targets an article in 2008 states that Enkephalinase inhibitors are promising therapeutic agents for the management of chronic pain since they would have anticraving, antidiarrhoeal and antidepressant actions and possess the advantage that they lack the opioid side effects of most analgesics.

Common Uses

The many known uses of Wild lettuce are:

  • Whooping cough
  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Sexual disorders
  • Muscle and Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • And of course, Headaches and Migraines


Wild lettuce may be taken in capsules, teas, or tinctures. Fresh green leaves are sometimes added to salads. Wild lettuce may be obtained also as dried leaves, dried latex, powdered extract, or powdered Lactucarium.

Although dosage varies the following have been suggested:
Wild Lettuce cut and dried leaves, 1-2 teaspoonfuls per cup of hot water up to 3 times a day.

Herbal Tincture, Extraction Ratio 1:3, alcohol volume 45%, 2-4ml up to 3 times a day.

Dried Lactucarium powder or Extract: 5 to 20 grains or 0.3 to 1.3 grams 3 times a day.

Of course this will vary due to the extraction concentration and the condition one wants to treat. I have found that up to one teaspoon may be needed for each cup of tea. Up to 3 cups a day may be taken. Remember that the herb is very bitter and some sort of sweetener is required.

My Secret recipe for Migraines

Lactucarium powder or Wild lettuce Extract: ? to 1 teaspoon
Powered ginger root (Zingiber officinale) ? teaspoon (for nausea, and pain)
Powdered Licorice Root Glycyrrhiza glabra ? teaspoon (for nausea, and pain)
Stevia extract (from the Stevia rebaudiana plant:) One small pinch (sweetener with no calories)

At the first sign of a migraine headache or soon after, place ingredients in the bottom of a cup. Pour 8 ounces of hot water but not boiling, Boiling will reduce its effectiveness. Let it steep and stir the hot water for 2 minutes. Add 1 to 2 ounces of cool water to the cup. The will allow you to drink it rapidly without burning your mouth. After consuming the drink, lie down for 15 to 30 minutes. The symptoms should be gone or at least partially gone.

May be repeated as needed in 2 to 3 hours up to 3 cups a day. Take only when you have a migraine or head ache. It is not meant to be taken daily.

Warning: May cause doziness and euphoria. Do not drive a car or operate machinery until you know how it affects you. Do not combine with any sedative or sleeping pill since the tea may make you drowsy. Do not take if pregnant without your doctor’s permission. Do not consume if you are under 18.

Side Effects and Interactions

Although normal dosage is very safe there are possible side effects which are:
Possible slow breathing, dizziness, sedation, and/ or drowsiness. Do not consume if pregnant or breast-feeding or if you have an allergy to ragweed. It may affect people who have an enlarged prostate or narrow angle glaucoma. Do not take within two weeks of a scheduled surgery due to possible sleepiness. As always consult a physician if you have any questions

Do not consume with CNS depressants such as clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital Ambien), and others.
Where to Purchase the best Wild Lettuce (Lactucarium Powder)

Ginger root, licorice root, and Stevia may be purchased at;

And other fine on-line herb stores.


  3. Wikipedia//Lactucarium
  4. http://www.
  5. Lactucarium, A Condensed Latex from Lactuca virosa L. Inhibits the Activity of NEP – I. Funke, M. F. Melzig Institut für Pharmazie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Goethestr. 54, 13086 Berlin, Germany.
  6. Analgesic and Sedative Activities of Lactucin and some Lactucin-like guaianolides in mice
    A. Weso?owskaa, A. Nikiforuka, K. Michalskab, W. Kisielb, E. Chojnacka-Wójcika
  7. Department of New Drugs Research, Institute of Pharmacology, Polish Academy of Sciences, 12 Smetna Str., 31-343 Krakow, Poland, March 2006.
  8. Enkephalinase inhibitors: potential agents for the management of pain. Thanawala V, Kadam VJ, Department of Pharmacology, Bharati Vidyapeeth’s College of Pharmacy, Sector 8, CBD Belapur, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India 2008.
  9. Web MD