The wild lettuce is a common plant found all over Europe and normally grows in the open areas as well as beside roads and pathways. The plant is also known as the compass plant as its leaves change direction to follow the sun. Since early ages, antecedents of the wild lettuce have enjoyed a special status as a beneficial therapeutic plant and were treasured as a tranquilizer and pain killer. The herb valued so much that during the 19th century people used it as a substitute for opium! The story goes that Roman emperor Augustus supposedly constructed a statue of a physician who had recommended lettuce to treat him of a serious ailment. While it is not comprehensible which variety of lettuce cured the emperor, it is believed that the herb was prickly lettuce.
Incidentally, similar to the opium the milk like sap or latex of the prickly lettuce hardens and transforms into a brownish color when kept in the open. This material is very much similar to opium in appearance and smell and is known as lactucarium. As mentioned earlier, the herb has been valued over the ages for it medicinal properties. While they included wild lettuce in their feast menus with a view to avoid intoxication, women who had given birth recently used a tea prepared with the herb to enhance lactation or milk production by the mammary glands. Many herbal medicine practitioners also recommended the use of wild lettuce as a diuretic as also a lotion to treat chapped skin. Many people find wild lettuce bitter to taste, but it is said to be horses' delight
Wild Lettuce is a valuable remedy for insomnia and muscular arthritis. The common name "lettuce opium", as it was known in the earlier official pharmacopoeias, refers to the potent milky latex produced by the stems and leaves. There has been a recent internet driven surge of popularity of wild lettuce as a recreational herb, however wild lettuce will disappoint those only looking for a legal high similar to opium. The powers that be have outlawed all the truly narcotic herbs, leaving only the less potent ones available to use without fear of running afoul of the law. That said, this relaxing and sedative herb can be a ally for those needing help to induce sleep, and calm restlessness and anxiety.
Habitat and cultivation
Wild lettuce is a commonly growing plant in all parts of Europe and is found in abundance in the open areas and along the pavements. The herb is commercially cultivated in countries like Austria, France, Germany and Scotland. The herb also grows in waste lands and along the embankments. The herb is collected in summer between July and August when the plant is in blossom. Harvesters cut the apex of wild lettuce and rub it several times in chinaware to extract the herb's juice or sap. The sap is then warmed a little and tapped to bring it out of its solid cup shape. Next, the substance is cut into small parts and dehydrated for future use.