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Wild Prickly Lettuce- Lactuca serriola

There are several varieties of wild lettuce, all with similar compounds and constituents They are all part of the same Lactuca Genus- Lactuca serriola, Lactuca biennis, Lactuca virosa, Lactuca canadensis. The variety that is most common in my area, is Lactuca serriola, which is what I am going to share with you today, with a tutorial of how to make your very own pain relief extract using a very simple method!

top profile of mature Prickly lettuce leaf

Wild lettuces are known for their mild analgesic and sedative effects. It is related to common lettuce, and is often called wild lettuce, bitter lettuce, opium lettuce, poisonous lettuce, tall lettuce, prickly lettuce. The most sought after wild lettuce is Lactuca virosa, known for its potent pain killing properties. Were I live, there is mostly prickly wild lettuce. I have found almost no difference between the two in regards to making the extracts, or how potent each is. That being said, I have read many articles from people who have tried both and found a significant difference. For myself, I try not to let technicalities get into the way of my en devours, If I think it might work, I try it. If I like the idea, I try it. If I want to do something, I'll do it! Making medicine does not have to be confusing, or hard or feel like a daunting task, It should be fun, and rewarding. It should make you feel like you have accomplished something, and it should not have to take you hours of research, work, and a gazillion things in order to make a very potent medicine that you can use to help your body and your mind. So lets talk about why wild lettuces are useful to us!

Today, the uses of narcotic opiates and pain killers are running rampant. They are advertised to our children through the music, they are given very easily to people who seek out medical advise for their aches and pains. They are prescribed at an alarming rate to anyone who seeks them out. Doctors get kickbacks and incentives from big pharma for prescribing them. I have first hand experience in my family of what roles these doctors really play in regards to the opioid crisis. They are complicit- and they know that they are addictive. They do very little background check to see if you had a drug issue before, and they do barely no follow up to see how you have been handling the drugs, except when you go back in for a refill. This is not healthcare! This is sick care.

So how can wild lettuce help those struggling with opiate dependency ? Wild lettuce contains something called lactucin and lactucopicrin- These are two compounds that act directly on the central nervous system. This compound comes from the milky sap that freely flows when you cut the stem or leaf. It offers general pain relief, especially when mental anxiety is involved. It relieves tension, especially in the musculoskeletal system, and is calming to the nervous system. It helps as a sleep aid, and can promote dreaming. If you cut the stem of a wild lettuce, and suck on the end where the latex milk is dripping, you will soon feel that your throat is almost numb. This is from the lactucin!

Be warned- the taste of wild lettuce sap is very bitter, but something that you can get used to. Back before we were introduced to sugar in our food supply, almost all of our food was bitter. This is just how it was because this is how much of the food is found in nature. Now a days, people are so used to sugars and sweeteners that they can no longer stomach anything that taste slightly bitter. In my opinion, the more bitter it tastes, the better it is for you !

Ok, so now that we have covered the very important and potentially even life saving benefits of wild lettuces, lets take about the most important aspect of this- THIS PLANT IS NON NARCOTIC, NON ADDICTIVE. Many people are finding it easier to cope with pain easier and without risk of addiction by using wild lettuce, some even swapping their medications and taking a more holistic approach when it comes to their pain.

Prickly lettuce has small tiny spines along the under rib of its leaves.
small tiny flowers, that bloom yellow until September.

Wild Prickly lettuce can grow up to two meters tall, This makes this plant very easy to spot, and they usually grow together in clusters. When I find one lettuce, I always find many! The leaves come in many variations, Leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node), 15 to 30cm (6 to 12”) long, coarse, and variable in size and shape. Basal leaves are larger than stem leaves. Leaves located on the lower part of the stem may be deeply or irregularly lobed. Leaf bases typically consist of ear-like lobes that clasp the stem. The upper leaf surface is hairless, but there are prickles along the edge, and the midrib on the lower leaf surface is lined with sharp prickles. Prickles are generally absent from upper stem leaves, which are small, lance shaped, and lack lobes. The prickles on the leaves are somewhat soft and incapable of cutting skin.

upper leaf clasping the stem
upper leaves are small and lance shaped
same specimen, different parts of the stem

The color of wild prickly lettuce use a greenish grey color. Quite a rich and unique color if you ask me. When you hold the leaf through the light, you can see every single leaf cell structure. Its very beautiful.

Now lets talk about were you can find this plant. Wild lettuces really love to grow.... everywhere! It grows along roads, railroads, sidewalks, vacant lots, waste areas, pastures, orchards, meadows and fields. The plant prefers dry conditions, although it tolerates and can often be found growing on moist ground. I have found prickly lettuce in all of these areas here in Alberta. I think I even have one growing in my back alley right now. Please make sure that if you are harvesting this plant, or any plant, make sure to keep in mind were you are harvesting it from, how exposed to pollution it may be, in the air or the soils, and dont ever harvest from anyplace that you may suspect is sprayed with pesticides. I love urban foraging just as much as wild foraging but you must always be aware of these rules so that you do not pick something that has been contaminated.

NOW THE FUN PART. lets make some medicine ! I am going to show you how to make pain killing medicine using two different yet very easy methods .

The first method, is called an extract. We are essentially going to make an "opium" extract. This is going to be extracted right from the whole plant of wild prickly lettuce, that I harvested myself and dried. I have read that drying the plant degrades the potency of the extract, so this might be a little weaker then if you used fresh plant. I suggest experimenting with both dried and fresh to see if you can notice any difference. With my finished product, I was able to feel the sedative and pain killing effects quite easily and effectively. That being said, I do not ever take medication to begin with, aside from what I use from my personal apothecary. I have always been this way. I hate doctor meds and unless absolutely necessary, I prefer to natural route. So while this works for my body, It may not work the same for yours. Something to keep in mind, is that not all of the sedative compounds are water soluble, so using this method may not be as effective as using an alcohol tincture, as ALL of the compounds are soluble in alcohol. Experiment and see what works best for your own personal needs, I am going to try both way and then test them to see what works best for me. ( read the disclaimer below before attempting to make this extract as there are some important precautions to take when using wild lettuces- and as always consult your doctor before using any herbal remedy)

The method

Gather your materials to start with. You are going to need:

Fresh or dried wild lettuce of any of the varieties I mentioned above, choose whatever is wild near you. In my case, I used Prickly wild lettuce, or Lactuca serriola.

You will need a pot, some water, and time. THAT'S LITERALLY IT. See, easy, peasy lemon squeezy as my son says.

Gather up your preferred plant material, I used dry. If you re using fresh, chop it up into manageable pieces or stuff it all into a blender and low spin it. The more surface area the water has to be able to reach, the more will be extracted from the plant. ( whole plant is usable)

Try and harvest before the flowers start to go to seed, but if you are unable to do that, DON'T WORRY. Use it anyways. Next time, try and gather sooner. But as I said, don't worry to much, just have fun !

plant material into the pot!

If you want to try with just a small batch, use 2 or three plants. If you want to try making a large batch, use 5 or 6 plants. I have no idea how many plants I have in here, I try not to focus to much on measurements and accuracy- how many of our ancestors measured to be exact amounts ? Probably none. They just made it, and over time they got better and better until their formula and recipe was perfect! That's what I like to do. I made another batch right after this one, and I used double the amount of material and received double the amount of finished product. Play with it and see what you can do !

So plant material goes in the pot. Then you can add in your water. make sure to thoroughly soak and cover your plant material.

Now that your ready, all you have to do it turn on your stove to a simmer. Whats happening here is that you are slowly infusing your plant material into the water. The water will remove all of the water soluble compounds.

After 30 to 45 minutes of slow simmering

Once this step is complete, you are going to end up with a liquid that looks something similar to green swamp water. This is exactly what you want ! The amount of liquid has probably reduced a little bit, and now you can dump it into a strainer of some sort. I used a very fine metal coffee filter. I tried the papoer one first and that did not work. You can use a cheese cloth as well, however mine was run out , so this is what I could find in a pinch. Do what works for you, just make sure that what ever you use removes all of the fine plant particles.

Now you are left with a bowl of greenish brown swamp sludge. Yummy! I might add, that I tried to make a herbal tea using wild lettuces, and I found it to be very weak. And very hard to drink an entire cup, even with honey.

So now you can dump the liquid back into a clean dry pot. Place the pot on your burner, to a slow simmer. This will sit for the next 4 or 5 hours. The idea is that you are going to slowly evaporate away the water and what will be left behind is the medicine from the sap. It will almost look magical, as your liquid turn from a gross green swamp water- to a dark black tar (plant opium!)

greenish brown swamp water

It will start to thicken up and turn black. Keep going !

After about 3 hours, depending how much you are working with, your liquid will become very thick and goey. Keep going. The idea is to evaporate all of the water and only leave behind the medicine. After about 4 to 5 hours, you will get something like this:

Now you are left with a sticky mess!

Now that you have your liquid reduced down to a tar like consistency, you have to be very careful not to let it burn. make sure that you are stirring and moving it around while you simmer off the last few drops of water. You should be left with an almost pliable blob that you can remove from the pot using a spatula and scrape it into a glass jar. This is what I was left with:

wild lettuce opium!

And there you have it ! That was so easy, probably more easier then you had imagined. For my dosage, I used about a pearl sized amount on a butter knife and placed it on my tongue. I had some backpain and I have a few places in my back that I get regular burning sensations from, due mostly to my posture. I felt the calming and mildly sedative effects just from that small amount. The pain did not completely go away, but it was greatly reduced- and I did not have to pop a pill to get that! Yaas. Mind you, this feeling does not last very long, maybe about an hour. I am going to try making a tincture using 100proof vodka in my next blog post and I will compare the effects when It is read to use. Have you tried t make this yet? Let me know in the comments how it worked out for you !!




Due to wild lettuces sedative properties, always take precautions before taking it, and make sure not to operate machinery or vehicles while using wild lettuce. Wild lettuce can cause hallucinations in some people, which can be dangerous. Wild lettuce can also have a sedative effect on the heart, causing it to slow down, and possibly even stop. Please make sure to consult your health care practitioner before consuming ANY herbal plants, including wild lettuce. Never stop any current medications without first consulting with your trusted doctor to see if it is safe to do so. Please always thoroughly research herbal plants and properly identify them before attempting to harvest and use them. Wild lettuce is considered safe when used properly and it is legal to use, harvest and grow.

THE ABOVE RECIPE AND INFORMATION IS TO BE USED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, and this information is not to be used in any what what soever, to diagnose, cure, or treat any disease or condition you may have. This information is not intended to replace doctors advise either. Please consult your doctor.

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