Wild Lettuce: Everything You Need To Know

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Awareness of medicinal plants usage is a result of the many years of struggles against illnesses due to which man learned to pursue drugs in barks, seeds, fruit bodies, and other parts of the plants. Due to this, people have used natural remedies for centuries, such as medicinal plants, to treat a variety of symptoms, including pain.

One of the medicinal herbs used is wild lettuce, known for relieving pain and inducing sleep. Get to know more about wild lettuce and its benefits.

What Is Wild Lettuce?

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is a plant grown in various areas of the world, including Iran, Austria, France, Germany, and Scotland. Wild lettuce is closely related to cultivated lettuce but grows like a weed.

Wild lettuce has a noxious or unpleasant smell, and it forms wavy leaves with prickly hairs underneath. Its yellow flowers turn into white fluffy plumes full of seeds that blow with the wind. Wild lettuce is sometimes mistaken for dandelion.

The following are the other names of wild lettuce:

  • Bitter lettuce
  • Opium lettuce
  • Poisonous lettuce
  • Rakutu-karyumu-so

This herb mostly thrives in sunny locations, such as along riverbanks and roadsides, and it can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height. Wild lettuce has bright green leaves, which sprout from a green stem that’s occasionally spotted purple.

When scratched or cut, the plant secretes a milky white substance known as lactucarium. This milky white substance turns brown as it’s exposed to air.

What are the Benefits of Wild Lettuce?

Wild lettuce is widely known as a medicinal herb. It contains two compounds, lactucin and lactucopicrin that both act on the central nervous system. Wild lettuce has the highest content of lactucopicrin among all plants, although dandelion root and chicory root are also good sources.

In addition to its sedative and analgesic effects, lactucopicrin is believed to act as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, meaning that it blocks cholinesterase enzymes responsible for slowing communication between brain cells. Wild lettuce is also said to exhibit potent antimicrobial activity.

Based on these properties, practitioners of alternative medicine believe that wild lettuce can prevent or treat the following health conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Cough
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Malaria
  • Menstrual pain

Wild Lettuce and Pain Relief

The most popular use of wild lettuce is pain relief, but what does current research say?

In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers provided lab mice with either lactucin, lactucopicrin, or ibuprofen (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) in oral form. The mice were then submitted to a hot-plate test and a flick-tail test (in which their tails were literally flicked) to assess their response to pain.

Of all the compounds tested, lactucopicrin was the most potent and required half the dose per kilogram compared to ibuprofen. Lactucin and lactucopicrin also appeared to have a sedating effect as evidenced by the dulling of the animals’ reflex activity like physical response to external stimuli.

Wild Lettuce May Be a Treatment Alzheimer’s Disease

The active compound lactucopicrin found in wild lettuce is shown to be a robust acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that lactucopicrin increased neuritogenesis in brain cells extracted from lab rats.

Neuritogenesis is a phenomenon in which nerve cells sprout projections, called neurites, that connect one nerve cell to another. The more neurites there are, the stronger the transmission of nerve signals.

This research suggests, but not proves, that wild lettuce may help preserve brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease. However, further research is still needed to back up this claim.

Wild Lettuce as a Potential Treatment to Malaria

According to World Health Organization, Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. In 2019 alone, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide.

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggested that lactucin and lactucopicrin isolated from the common chicory plant have anti-malarial properties. It can reasonably be assumed that the same would be seen with wild lettuce, although it is unclear how active the compounds would be against malaria.

Wild Lettuce: Bottom Line

This known herb is used in the field of alternative medicine for relieving pain and other potential benefits.

The current researches centered around wild lettuce mainly focused on mice and animals. Due to this, we can only rely on anecdotal evidence on its effectiveness to humans. While it is considered generally safe to consume, there might be potential side effects and one should use it with caution.

If you have underlying medical conditions, consult your doctor first before taking any supplement. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also refrain from taking wild lettuce supplements as little is still known about its potential side effects.

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