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Lettuce Opium

Subject: Re: Wild Lettuce Opium
Date: 3/10/00 5:20 PM Eastern Standard Time
Message-id: <>

On Fri, 18 Feb 2000 22:28:14 -0800, "Cade Martin" wrote:

>> What is the best method for extracting Lactucarium (Lettuce Opium) from
>> domestic lettuce?

>What would lettuce opium do for you

Used frequently, it appears to cause liver damage.


The case of the salad shooters:
intravenous injection of wild lettuce extract

Mullins ME, Horowitz BZ
Oregon Poison Center, Oregon Health Sciences
University, Portland 97201-3098, USA.
Vet Hum Toxicol 1998 Oct; 40(5):290-1


Three young adult drug users obtained wild lettuce and valerian root, prepared a crude aqueous extract of the wild lettuce, and injected the extract i.v. One also injected an alcohol extract of the valerian root. All 3 rapidly became ill with fevers, chills, abdominal pain, flank and back pain, neck stiffness, headache, leucocytosis and mild liver function abnormalities, but recovered over the next 3 d. Various literature and internet sources claim that wild lettuce has opiate properties not demonstrated in this case.


Lettuce, Wild:

Lactuca virosa

The name lactuca is derived from the classical Latin name for the milky juice, virosa, or 'poisonous.'

It is a biennial herb growing to a maximum height of 6 feet. The erect stem, springing from a brown tap-root, is smooth and pale green, sometimes spotted with purple. There are a few prickles on the lower part and short horizontal branches above. The numerous, large, radical leaves are from 6 to 18 inches long, entire, and obovate-oblong. The stem leaves are scanty, alternate, and small, clasping the stem with two small lobes. The heads are numerous and shortly-stalked, the pale-yellow corolla being strap-shaped. The rough, black fruit is oval, with a broad wing along the edge, and prolonged above into a long, white beak carrying silvery tufts of hair. The whole plant is rich in a milky juice that flows freely from any wound. This has a bitter taste and a narcotic odour. When dry, it hardens, turns brown, and is known as lactucarium.

The Wild Lettuce grows on banks and waste places, flowering in July and August. It is cultivated in Austria, France, Germany and Scotland. Collectors cut the heads of the plants and scrape the juice into china vessels several times daily until it is exhausted. By slightly warming and tapping, it is turned out of its cup mould, is cut into quarters and dried.

In the United States, after importation from Germany via England it is said to be used as an adulterant for opium. It is usually found in irregular, reddish-brown lumps the size of a large pea, frequently mouldy on the outside. In the United States the German and French lactucarium is considered inferior to the British product.

All lettuces possess some of this narcotie juice, Lactuca virosa having the most, and the others in the following order: L. scariola, or Prickly Lettuce, L. altissima, L. Canadensis, or Wild Lettuce of America, and L. sativa, or Garden Lettuce. Cultivation has lessened the narcotic properties of the last, but it is still used for making a lotion for the skin useful in sunburn and roughness. The Ancients held the lettuce in high esteem for its cooling and refreshing properties. The Emperor Augustus attributed his recovery from a dangerous illness to it; built an altar to it, and erected a statue in its honour.

Lactucarium is not easily powdered, and is only slightly soluble in boiling water, though it softens and becomes plastic.

Thridace, or the inspissated juice of L. capitata, is now regarded as inert.

A mild oil, used in cooking, is said to be obtained from the seeds in Egypt.

L. virosa has been found to contain lactucic acid, lactucopicrin, 50 to 60 per cent lactucerin (lactucone) and lactucin. Lactucarium treated with boiling water and filtered is clear, but on cooling the filtrate becomes turbid. It is not coloured blue by iodine test solution. The usual constituents of latex are albumen, mannite, and caoutchouc. The fresh juice reddens litmus paper.

The drug resembles a feeble opium without its tendency to upset the digestive system. It is used to a small extent as a sedative and narcotic.

Dissolved in wine it is said to be a good anodyne.

Dr. Collins stated that twenty-three out of twenty-four cases of dropsy were cured by taking doses of 18 grains to 3 drachms of extract in twenty-four hours. It is used in Germany in this complaint, but combined with more active drugs. It is said to be also a mild diaphoretic and diuretic, easing colic, inducing sleep and allaying cough.

Water distilled from lettuce (eau de laitre) is used in France as a mild sedative in doses of 2 to 4 OZ., and the fresh leaves boiled in water are sometimes used as a cataplasm.

Moderate doses given to the lower animals act as a narcotic poison, an injection having even caused death.


Wild Lettuce

Scientific Name: Lactuca viridis

No medicine cabinet is complete without a painkiller of some sort. For those times when someone burns a finger, slams a hand in the car door, or does anything else to cause shooting pains, wild lettuce will ease the hurt until the body can heal itself.

This plant has a rather telling common name, opium lettuce. What more does a person need to know? When it comes to pain, wild lettuce will take care of the situation. It is native to central and southern Europe and ranges from there all the way to the northern tip of Asia. Like many healing weeds, it can now be found growing just about anywhere the colonials touched ground. The part used in medicine is the leaves, which are gathered in June or July, before the plant shoots to seed.

As you might have guessed, Lactuca viridis is the wild forebear of the item we chop and dice into salad bowls. Though it is currently accepted as a safe food, this was not always the case. Prior to the Victorian age, wild lettuce was well known as a painkiller and sedative. When there appeared in the market cultivated varieties devoid of the medicinal elements found in wild lettuce, social commentators were not pleased. In fact, they became quite vocal as to the incredible danger this represented to society. It would be as if someone today introduced a salad variety of marijuana. There was great concern that lettuce would cause childlessness or would produce children with subnormal intelligence. A whole list of horrible things were supposed to happen if people proceeded with this shameless eating of lettuce. Obviously, the public needn't have worried as they did. For one thing, no one would choose to sit down to a salad made of the medicinal variety, unless he had a penchant for the taste of matchheads. The lettuce scandal passed; unfortunately so did awareness of wild lettuce's pain-killing abilities.

The scientific name for wild lettuce, Lactuca viridis, relates to part of the plant's physiology. If you scrape the leaf or stem of the plant, it immediately ejects a milky white latex, and the name lactuca comes from the Latin word for milk, as in lactation. At various times in history, the plant was purposefully wounded, and its milk was collected, dried, and molded into balls. These balls were known as lactucarium, and the substance was collected and taken much like opium. In fact, the drug was called lettuce opium and was widely used.

Wild lettuce is just about as old a painkiller as opium. When the Roman emperor Augustus fell seriously ill he was treated with Lactuca viridis. He survived his run-in with the grim reaper and had a temple and a statue erected in the plant's honor. Sadly, the statue does not survive, and I can't think of any other such monument celebrating the virtues of a vegetable. Clearly we are talking about a different space and time.

In the 16th century, Gerard said this of wild lettuce: " it procures sleep, asswages paine, moves the courses in women, and is drunke against the stingings of scorpions and bitings of spiders. The seed taken in drinke, like as the garden lettuce, hindreth generation of seed and venereous imaginations." Wild lettuce is a sedative, and as such, it should come as no surprise that when people drink the tea, they don't have much sexual desire. Gerard's statement to this effect represents the notion that was commonly held by his contemporaries. The notion carried through to the Victorian era. Remember, they were the ones who said that eating lettuce would cause childlessness. Like many Victorian beliefs, the fear of wild lettuce has never been substantiated scientifically.

The milky substance ejected by the plant has been found to contain lactucic acid, lactucopicrin, lactucin, sesquiterpene lactone, flavonoids based on quercetin, coumarins, cichoriin, and aesculin, n-methyl-b-phenethylamine, and up to 60 percent latex, which is the raw ingredient in rubber. The plant's high latex content led to its experimental use as an alternative source of rubber, particularly during World War II. However, it takes a lot of lettuce to make a tire, and the fledgling industry never got off the ground.

Whereas wild lettuce bombed out in the rubber business, it has been substantially more successful in the medicinal one. Maude Grieve wrote in 1931 that "the drug resembles a feeble opium without its tendency to upset the digestive system. It is used to a small extent as a sedative and narcotic." One little-known fact about heroin use is that when the drug is first taken, it causes vomiting, which is perhaps the body's way of saying that this is the wrong thing to do. Even the opium derivatives tend to upset the stomach, something that our friend wild lettuce would never do.

In its catalogue of medicinal plants published in 1917, the Servall Company asserted that wild lettuce was "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 written at a time when you could still get opium and cocaine over the counter. Then as now, there are many reasons why such narcotics are "objectionable" when you are dealing with pain, not the least of which is the fact that they are highly addictive.

Much like passion vine, wild lettuce is used to slow down the nervous system. For this reason, it is very effective in cases of insomnia, nervousness, hysteria, muscle spasms, colic pains, painful menstruation, bothersome coughs, and painful digestion. However, because the drug is a little on the strong side, its primary use is for pain. As with any painkiller, caution should be used when taking this drug. It would be embarrassing to be admitted to a drug rehabilitation center for a psychological dependence on lettuce.


Tea: Add two teaspoons dried leaves to one cup boiling water, let stand ten minutes, and strain. Drink three times per day.

Tincture: Add 2ml tincture to one-cup hot water. Drink three times per day.