Wild lettuce is more than just wild lettuce; it is a special type of plant that is often used in herbal medicine . Wild lettuce ( Lactuca virosa ) is closely related to dandelion and is believed to have sedative and analgesic (analgesic) effects. It is often used as a natural remedy for stress and chronic pain .
Wild lettuce can be found in central and southern Europe, Australia, the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, and the coast of the United Kingdom.
Also know as
- Sour salad
- Opium salad
- Poisonous salad
Some call wild lettuce "opium for the poor," as it produces slightly modifying effects when consumed in excess.
What is wild salad used for?
Wild lettuce contains two compounds, lactucin and lactucopicrin, which act on the central nervous system. Wild lettuce contains the highest concentration of lactucopicrin of all plants, although dandelion root and chicory root are also good sources.
In addition to its sedative and pain-relieving effects, lactucopicrin is believed to act as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, meaning that it blocks cholinesterase enzymes responsible for slowing down communication between brain cells. Wild lettuce is also said to have powerful antimicrobial effects.
Based on these properties, alternative medicine professionals believe that wild lettuce can prevent or treat the following health conditions:
- Alzheimer disease
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Joint pain
- Menstrual pain
Despite many health claims, there is little evidence that wild lettuce can prevent or treat any disease. Most of the current evidence is primarily hypothetical or anecdotal.
This does not mean that wild salad is useless. This is some of what the current evidence says.
Despite long-standing claims that wild lettuce is a powerful pain reliever, there has been little actual research to support this effect.
The most frequently cited study was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2006. For this study, researchers gave laboratory mice lactucin, lactucopicrin, or ibuprofen (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) orally. The mice were then subjected to the hot plate test and the tail squeeze test (in which their tails literally wagged their tails) to assess their response to pain .
Of the compounds tested, lactucopicrin was the most potent and required half the dose per kilogram compared to ibuprofen. Lactucin and lactucopicrin also have a sedative effect, as evidenced by the dulling of the animals' reflex activity (that is, the physical reaction to external stimuli).
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that lactucin and lactucopicrin, isolated from common chicory, have antimalarial properties. It can be reasonably assumed that the same could be seen with wild lettuce, although it is unclear how active the antimalarial compounds are .
In contrast, sweet wormwood ( Artemesia annua ), another plant rich in lactucin and lactucopicrin, contains a very powerful antimalarial agent called artemisinin. Unlike sweet wormwood, wild lettuce does not contain artemisinin.
Lactucopicrin from wild lettuce was found to be a potent acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Among its benefits, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that lactucopicrin enhances neuritogenesis in brain cells isolated from laboratory rats .
Neuritogenesis is a phenomenon in which nerve cells form processes called neurites that connect one nerve cell to another. The more neurites, the stronger the transmission of nerve signals.
Possible side effects.
Because so little research has been done, the long-term safety of wild lettuce is unknown. When consumed in reasonable amounts, wild lettuce is considered safe, although it can cause mild indigestion, nervousness, or drowsiness.
Some people may experience skin irritation if wild lettuce is applied to them. This is especially true for people with a latex allergy .
Although wild lettuce is used therapeutically, the latex excreted from plants is highly toxic. This can cause a mild feeling of euphoria, which turns into extreme arousal with overuse. A 2009 study published in BMJ Case Reports detailed eight cases of poisoning after consuming large amounts of raw wild lettuce .
Because of the potential harm, pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children should not use wild lettuce. There is also evidence that wild lettuce can exacerbate conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (an enlarged prostate) or narrow-angle glaucoma , both affected by acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.
When to call your doctor
Call 911, a poison control center, or seek emergency help if any of the following occur after eating wild lettuce. Most cases are not life threatening, but may require hospitalization.
- Blurry vision
- Bloodshot eyes
- Fast heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Confusion or hallucinations
- Extreme anxiety and agitation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Heavy sweating
- Inability to urinate
Selection, preparation and storage
Wild salad is most commonly sold in the United States as a dietary supplement, most commonly in capsule form, as well as tinctures, extracts, powders, and dried herbs.
There are no guidelines for the proper use of wild lettuce, but capsule manufacturers generally recommend 400 to 500 milligrams (mg) per day.
The doses of tincture and extract depend on the concentration of the solution. Dried herbs and powdered formulations can be used to make tea by steeping 1-2 tablespoons of dried herb or 1-2 teaspoons of powder in a glass of boiling water.
Caution should be exercised when handling dried Lactuca virosa , as you cannot control the dose and may consume more than you think. Also, it is impossible to tell if dried herbs have been contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, chemical fertilizers, or other harmful substances.
In contrast, wild lettuce capsules offer a more consistent dosage, especially if they have been certified by an independent certification body such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International. Although certification of many herbal supplements is rare. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting this practice as supplement consumers get smarter.
Certification does not mean that the application is working. Simply confirm that the content is pure and that the supplement contains only the types and amounts of ingredients indicated on the product label.
There are even brands that are certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reduce the risk of poisoning.
Since nutritional supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States, these certifications are your best guarantee that the supplement is safe.
Frequently asked questions
For musculoskeletal pain, white willow bark is believed to relieve joint pain associated with osteoarthritis , and devil's claw is used to reduce pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis . Others rely on cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil , a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana that is believed to reduce pain and inflammation. Check with your doctor before using any supplement to learn about side effects and possible drug interactions.
Due to the risk of poisoning, raw wild lettuce should not be consumed. Although rare in the United States, this plant is reported to have been introduced to parts of California and Alabama.
Wild lettuce can reach 3 to 8 feet tall. It has green leaves and pale yellow flowers. The seeds are attached to a tuft that resembles the plump white "fluff" of a dandelion.
Wild salad can be found online and in supplement stores. It is sold in capsule form, as well as dried herbs, liquid extract, and powders.