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Uncultivated Part One ( Opium Lettuce)

Posted by Rina Veltkamp on

I want people to understand where our food came from and how important it is for us to keep diversity on our plant. 

In this series i am going to take about the most common produce plant we get at the grocery store and who there wild ancestors are and where they where breed from. 

Todays blogs is all about lettuce and its wild ancestry Opium Lettuce.   

Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca Serriola L., a native to the Mediterranean region is. The plant is sometimes called wild lettuce, China lettuce or compass plant because the leaves on the main stem are held vertically in a north-south plane, perpendicular to direct sunlight. (1)

Wild Lettuce can be taken as a cough suppressant for dry irritable unproductive coughs, such as whooping cough.

 The herb has similar actions to that of Opium Poppy but is weaker in effect. It has a calming action on the nervous system making it useful for the treatment of insomnia and restlessness. Its pain relieving actions can be applied to digestive cramping and pain, menstrual cramps, and general body aches and pains. (2)

Opium Lettuce, another common names for Wild Lettuce harkens to the milky latex substance that exudes when the plant is broken, which was prepared as a substitute for Opium in the 1900’s by physicians. A preparation from wild lettuce was described in the United States Dispensatory of 1898. Although the prepared latex resin from the plant is purported to have some of the same properties as opium, the effects are much more mild and it is not chemically related to any of the opiate drugs. (3)

How was this interesting plant used as the starter for breeding the lettuces we buy at the grocery stores? 

The wild predecessor of our modern lettuce, Lactuca serriola, can still be seen all over Europe and the more temperate parts of Asia. It is likely that it originated on the Mediterranean rim on rocky wasteland or woodland clearings. 

This ancient wild relative of the modern lettuce contains lactucarium, a narcotic similar to opium. The Romans took advantage of this property by eating lettuce at the end of a meal to induce sleep.

With the vast number of lettuce cultivars in existence, it is near impossible to pin-point their exact origins. Certainly both the Roman and Egyptian lettuce continued to be eaten long after the two great civilizations started to decline. Many may have hybridised with the wild type serriola to make the modern sativa. (3)

One of the best ways to use this plant is to make a tincture out of it. Could be used like the Romans as a sleep aid or a way to relax after meals, 



Prickly Lettuce is best used as a fresh plant tincture as its medicine is contained in the latexy innards of the stem. This latex degrades when drying. To make a tincture of prickly lettuce harvest the top of the plant (approximate the top 12 inches)  before it has started to flower and on a sunny day. Immediately processes the plant into a tincture. (4)






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