If you are looking to add to your medicinal stockpile for a survival or SHTF situation, there are a number of plants that simply grow wild throughout the United States and around the world. One of these you may have already heard of is wild lettuce.
Similar to many other natural remedies, it’s promoted by those who use it and those who sell it as a treatment for a wide variety of medical issues. So, is wild lettuce a prepper’s treasure or is it dangerous? We’ll explore that question in this article.
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What is Wild Lettuce?
Wild lettuce is from the Lactuca Virosa plant and its seed, latex (sap), and leaves are believed to have medicinal properties. Wild lettuce has been used for centuries to treat a variety of different symptoms including insomnia and pain.
Although studies in mice indicate significant analgesic properties, wild lettuce is considered an alternative therapy because of the limited documented research on its effectiveness with humans.
Wild lettuce is a member of the Aster family, and other plants in this family contain sesquiterpene lactones, shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Other Names for Wild Lettuce (Lactuca Virosa):
- Bitter lettuce
- Green endive
- Lettuce Opium or Opium Lettuce
- Strong Scented Lettuce
- Poison Lettuce
- Acrid lettuce
How to Identify Wild Lettuce
Prior to using wild lettuce for any reason, it’s important to be able to properly identify wild lettuce.
Found growing natively around the globe including the Middle East, Europe, Australia, India, and North America, wild lettuce is an herb that likes locations with direct sunlight but can tolerate shady areas as well.
It blooms from July to September and can grow from four to ten feet tall. Wild lettuce is often found growing in the gravel along the side of the road or growing along riverbanks.
Wild lettuce grows up from a brown taproot, green stems and variable, deeply lobed and bright green leaves. Hairs grow only on the bottomside of the leaf midvein.
Stems can be spotted purple but aren’t always. The flowers look like tiny yellow dandelions and can have hints of orange or red.
If cut, wild lettuce exudes lactucarium, a white, milky substance, which can provide pain relieving effects similar to opium, without less side effects.
The seeds of wild lettuce are flat and oval shaped with a beak-looking tip which has a white tuff at the end. Seeds are usually brown in color and about an inch or so in diameter.
Wild Lettuce Look-Alikes
Tall Blue Lettuce also known as Lactuca biennis is found in similar locations as wild lettuce. The seed beak is noticeably shorter and the seeds will have light brown hairs that aren’t present on seeds of wild lettuce.
The leaves of tall blue lettuce have winged stalks and hairs on more than just the midrib. As the name indicates, flower petals are typically a pale blue to white.
Prickly Lettuce or Lactuca Serriola is very much like wild lettuce and health benefits are similar as well. In fact, the two are often confused.
To identify prickly lettuce, look for a white taproot, fairly large in size, with a plant that grows up to seven feet in height.
The stem of prickly lettuce will have a whitish tint from the waxy covering. Prickly lettuce smells like garden lettuce whereas wild lettuce smells like Opium Poppy when plant is cut or crushed.
Seeds are flat with miniscule barbed ribs, leaves are basal, irregularly-lobed, with prickly edges. To determine prickly lettuce from wild lettuce, look for leaves that are more blue in color and have short prickly hairs.
We’ve made a full list of these and other wild lettuce lookalikes.
Warnings and Side Effects
Wild lettuce is known for its psychoactive properties. Some people have been know to use it for the “high” that it can provide when stems filled with sap are dried and smoked.
Sap can also be boiled into resin and smoked. Users report strange, intense dreams similar to “vision quests” of Native American tribes who used wild lettuce.
Wild lettuce causes drowsiness and should not be taken with other sedative medicines.
There is not sufficient studies to predict how wild lettuce interacts with medications. If you are taking sedatives, including Klonopin (Clonazepam), Ativan (Lorazepam), Ambien (Zolpidem) or other sedatives or sleep aids, do not use wild lettuce without approval and monitoring from your physician.
Wild Lettuce Side Effects Include:
- Urinary Retention
- Auditory Hallucinations
- Extreme Sensitivity to Light
- Breathing Issues
- Heart Complications
Avoid using wild lettuce or wild lettuce supplements if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have been diagnosed with enlarged prostate, glaucoma, or have a known or suspected allergy to ragweed or plants in the Asteraceae family including but not limited to marigolds, chrysanthemums, and daisies.
Due to the drowsiness that can be caused by wild lettuce, if you are scheduled for a surgery that will involve use of anesthesia or any similar medications, avoid using wild lettuce in the weeks prior to and after surgery as a precaution.
Do not attempt to inject the sap of wild lettuce intravenously as it can be extremely dangerous as documented for this group who became seriously ill.
Is Wild Lettuce Legal?
Since wild lettuce is one of the many plants growing wild around the world, unlike opium, it is not a controlled plant in most places.
Substances found in the wild lettuce plant are also not considered controlled substances. This means the wild lettuce plant, its extracts and any products made from the plant are in fact legal.
The effects of wild lettuce are similar to opium but milder and typically without the nausea that can accompany opium use.
It is possible to overdose on wild lettuce and dosage information is sketchy because research on humans is nearly non existent.
Always use caution when using wild lettuce or recommending its use to other people. Toxicity has been reported, several hikers were hospitalized after eating fresh wild lettuce and experiencing severe side effects.
When to Use Wild Lettuce?
Due to the lack of clinical evidence supporting the use of wild lettuce for humans, it should be reserved for emergency pain relief in most cases.
If you intend to use wild lettuce for pain relief in a survival or SHTF situation, it’s critical to ensure that you or your loved ones are not allergic to wild lettuce or plants in the Aster family.
How and When to Harvest Wild Lettuce
In addition to dosage, you need to know how and when to harvest wild lettuce for best results. If you are planting your own seeds, keep in mind that new plants will not flower until the end of the second summer.
The best time to harvest wild lettuce in the United States is late summer, the last week of July through August.
The plant should be flowering and will taste bitter in an attempt to keep predators from eating it as it readies itself to produce the next generation of itself.
If you are concerned about collecting as much sap as possible, you may want to cut and bleed the sap as demonstrated in the next video instead of pulling it up at the root.
Bleed the Sap From Plant once it has reached its flowering stage by breaking off the cluster of flowers. It’s best to harvest the plant in sections because harvesting the entire plant at once will stop the sap from flowing.
Cut the stalk in one inch pieces allowing the sap to bleed into your container and then cut the next piece until you reach the base.
How to Prepare Wild Lettuce
Wild Lettuce Tincture is made by extracting the sap from the wild lettuce and dissolving it in alcohol to preserve it.
Typically, you would dry the sap first and then dissolve in alcohol. But some people have skipped the drying step and dissolved the sap directly into a jar of alcohol.
Keep in mind skipping the drying process could alter the effects of the sap. You can make your own or purchase wild lettuce tincture online.
Wild Lettuce Beer is another way to prepare wild lettuce. One recipe suggested in Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, suggests 1 ounce of wild lettuce sap per one gallon of water.
Add 8 ounces of brown sugar along with 12 ounces of molasses. Bottle the brew with an ale yeast and ferment approximately 6 to 8 weeks or until activity stops.
Beer is ready for drinking after at least two weeks of aging. Please note this recipe is included in the “psychotropic and highly inebriating beers” section of the book. Please experiment responsibly.
Wild Lettuce Tea can be made from dried wild lettuce leaves that you harvest or you can purchase dried wild lettuce online.
Keep in mind that the leaves contain the least amount of sap, thus the pain relieving properties in tea may not be as noticeable.
It is not recommended that you make tea from sap as it is not water soluble. The sap or lactucarium in wild lettuce is however alcohol soluble which means a tincture is a better method.
Like any other wild edible or herbal supplement, wild lettuce does appear to have some properties that can make it beneficial for health reasons.
Although there is anecdotal evidence supports using wild lettuce throughout history to relieve pain and for other health issues, the clinical research on humans is not yet available.
It’s critical that you do your own research so you can confidently identify wild lettuce and harvest it properly or are able to evaluate wild lettuce supplements before purchasing.
Every person can have a different reaction to the use of wild lettuce. I would highly recommend consulting your physician or trusted health practitioner regarding dosage levels for wild lettuce as there is a potential for severe side effects if overdose occurs.
Will you try wild lettuce? If you have used wild lettuce, please share your results in the comments below.
The information in this article is provided “as is” and should not be mistaken for or be a substitute for medical or legal advice. Always consult your physician or lawyer before trying any of the advice presented on this page.
Always seek the help of a professional when dealing with medicinal herbs. Neither the author nor www.SurvivalSullivan.com or the company behind the website shall be held liable for any negative effects of you putting into practice the information in this article.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of ten is learning everything she can about preparedness, survival, and homesteading.