Latin Name: Lactuca serriola
Description: A herb. It grows 1-2 m high. It takes 2 years to complete its life-cyle. It has a well developed taproot. The leaves have deep lobes and are bluish-green with a whitish bloom. They have prickly edges. The lower leaves form a ring near the ground. They are large and the higher leaves are smaller. The leaves are 3-18 cm long. The flowering stem is stiff and 1.5 m high. The flowers are small and yellow. There are prickles on the midrib of the leaves. The spiny stems ooze milky sap when cut.
Edibility Rating out of 5: 2
Medicinal Rating out of 5: 3
Edible Uses: Young leaves – raw or cooked. A bitter flavour. The young tender leaves are mild and make an excellent salad, but the whole plant becomes bitter as it gets older, especially when coming into flower. As a potherb it needs very little cooking. Large quantities can cause digestive upsets. Young shoots – cooked. Used as an asparagus substitute. An oil of pleasant flavour is obtained from the seed but must be refined before it is edible.
Warnings: The plant accumulates lactucarium towards flowering which is mildly narcotic.
Medicinal Uses: Anodyne; Antipyretic; Diuretic; Homeopathy; Hypnotic; Narcotic; Sedative.
Medicinal Information: The whole plant is rich in a milky sap that flows freely from any wounds. This hardens and dries when in contact with the air. The sap contains ‘lactucarium’, which is used in medicine for its anodyne, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties. Lactucarium has the effects of a feeble opium, but without its tendency to cause digestive upsets, nor is it addictive. It is taken internally in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, neuroses, hyperactivity in children, dry coughs, whooping cough, rheumatic pain etc. Concentrations of lactucarium are low in young plants and most concentrated when the plant comes into flower. It is collected commercially by cutting the heads of the plants and scraping the juice into china vessels several times a day until the plant is exhausted. This species does not contain as much lactucarium as L. virosa. An infusion of the fresh or dried flowering plant can also be used. The plant should be used with caution, and never without the supervision of a skilled practitioner. Even normal doses can cause drowsiness whilst excess causes restlessness and overdoses can cause death through cardiac paralysis. The fixed oil from the seeds is said to possess antipyretic and hypnotic properties. A homeopathic remedy is made from the plant. It is used in the treatment of chronic catarrh, coughs, swollen liver, flatulence and ailments of the urinary tract.
Other Uses: The seed contains 35.2% of a semi-drying oil. It is used in soap making, paints, varnishes etc.