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lactuca virosa L.
The name lactuca is derived from the classical Latin name for the milky juice, virosa, or 'poisonous
Poisonous Lettuce; Gift-Lattich;
La laitue vireuse.
Bitter Lettuce, Great Lettuce, Lactucarium, Laitue vireuse, Opium Lettuce Rakutu-Karyumu-So, Rauschlattich, Wild Lettuce, Zehirli Marul
Allen Enc.:Tincture (prepared from equal parts of the expressed juice of the herb and 80% Alcohol).
Plantae; Spermatophyta, Angiospermae - Flowering Plants; Dicotyledonae; Asteridae / Synandrae; Asterales; Compositae / Asteraceae - Composites / Daisy or Sunflower Family
Allen: Cyclopoedia, V. 5, V. 10. Cyclop. Drug Path., V. 3. Hering: Guid. Symptoms, V. 7. Jahr: Symp. Codex. Macfarlan: High Pot. Provings.
Dierbach: Die neuesten Entdeckungen i d Mat. Med., V. 1.
Hartmann: Jl. Hom. Arzneimittel, 2 Jahrg, 1839.
Macfarlan: Hom. Phys., V. 12, p. 54; V. 13, pp. 380, 529, 534.
Roth: Revue Mat. Med., V. 4.
Seidel: Jl. f Arzneimittel, V. 2, pt. 1, 2, pp. 29, 87.
Schier: A. H. Z., V. 131, pp. 97, 113.
Description of the substance
Yellow, dandelion-like in tight cluster atop tall stem.
July - September.
Bright bluish-green, clasping stem, with prominent white center vein, sharply toothed along margin and along center vein on leaf backside.
Disturbed areas along roads and trails.
Alien - Invasive.
obovate to oblong, dentate to pinnatifid
Common Name: LETTUCE, WILD LETTUCE
Range: Spain, Turkey, Warmer Parts Of Europe
Action: diuretic, expectorant, hypnotic, lactogogue, laxative, narcotic, sedative
Contains: lettuce opium
Lactuca virosa is a close relative of normal lettuce (Lactuca sativa) that can be bought in supermarkets. L. virosa contains substances that produce similar, but milder psycho-active effects than opium from Papaver somniferum The plant is used centuries because of its sedating and anaesthetic properties. In the 19th century, doctors and pharmacists regularly used lactucarium, a plant extract, when normal opium wasn't available. Lactucarium is a safe opium substitute, because it is not addictive and even large amounts of lactucarium never lead to overdosage. In the 70's, L.virosa was very popular in America. There it was sold under multiple names like Lettuce opium, l'opium and lettucene.
It is a biennial herb growing to a maximum height of 6 feet. The erect stem, springing from a brown tap-root, is smooth and pale green, sometimes spotted with purple. There are a few prickles on the lower part and short horizontal branches above. The numerous, large, radical leaves are from 6 to 18 inches long, entire, and obovate-oblong. The stem leaves are scanty, alternate, and small, clasping the stem with two small lobes. The heads are numerous and shortly-stalked, the pale-yellow corolla being strap-shaped. The rough, black fruit is oval, with a broad wing along the edge, and prolonged above into a long, white beak carrying silvery tufts of hair. The whole plant is rich in a milky juice that flows freely from any wound. This has a bitter taste and a narcotic odour. When dry, it hardens, turns brown, and is known as lactucarium.
The Wild Lettuce grows on banks and waste places, flowering in July and August. It is cultivated in Austria, France, Germany and Scotland. Collectors cut the heads of the plants and scrape the juice into china vessels several times daily until it is exhausted. By slightly warming and tapping, it is turned out of its cup mould, is cut into quarters and dried.
In the United States, after importation from Germany via England it is said to be used as an adulterant for opium. It is usually found in irregular, reddish-brown lumps the size of a large pea, frequently mouldy on the outside. In the United States the German and French lactucarium is considered inferior to the British product.
All lettuces possess some of this narcotie juice, Lactuca virosa having the most, and the others in the following order: L. scariola, or Prickly Lettuce, L. altissima, L. Canadensis, or Wild Lettuce of America, and L. sativa, or Garden Lettuce. Cultivation has lessened the narcotic properties of the last, but it is still used for making a lotion for the skin useful in sunburn and roughness. The Ancients held the lettuce in high esteem for its cooling and refreshing properties. The Emperor Augustus attributed his recovery from a dangerous illness to it; built an altar to it, and erected a statue in its honour.
Lactucarium is not easily powdered, and is only slightly soluble in boiling water, though it softens and becomes plastic.
Thridace, or the inspissated juice of L. capitata, is now regarded as inert.
A mild oil, used in cooking, is said to be obtained from the seeds in Egypt.