Like so many herbs and ethnobotanicals, the history of wild lettuce (also known as “opium lettuce”) goes back literally thousands of years. It may have its origins in prehistoric times, but we know that the Egyptians used it as an aphrodisiac though they did warn against overusing it as they felt it would “dull the brain.” The Egyptian fertility god Min was pictured with stalks of wild lettuce behind him, in addition to being a fertility god, Min was the god of magic plants. Lettuce seed oil is still used for medicinal purposes, cooking as a massage oil and as an aphrodisiac.
Wild lettuce was also evidently a favorite of the Roman Emperor Augustus. He claimed to have been cured by an infusion of lettuce oil. Wild lettuce was also included as an ingredient in potions and used in magical rites in various regions throughout history. By the mid 1800’s wild lettuce extract had become common as an ingredient in formulas for headaches and as a cough suppressant.
As far as its known properties, wild lettuce (lactuca virosa) is known to be mildly sedative and have some pain relieving properties. The compound lactucarium is one of the primary actives, it’s a white milky, slightly resinous substance. Wild lettuce is sometimes known as opium lettuce, but contains no opiates or opioid related compounds.
Despite that, it was actually used as an alternative to opium in the 1800’s. By the 1970’s it was rediscovered as a folk medicine. It is one of the primary ingredients in sopia resin (also known as “sopium”). In the past it has been used for asthma, insomnia, coughs and colds, headaches and muscle pain even menstrual problems. Often the leaves and stems are dried and prepared as a tea, but it can also be made into a tincture or extracted by other means. It was also prepared as a sort of syrup by simmering it in a pot with water and sugar or honey. This would help take down some of the bitter taste from the herb. The herb can also be vaporized in an herb vaporizer. It has been smoked as well, but smoking is not recommended as it is harmful to the lungs.
Some people have used Wild Lettuce as an anxiolytic, due to its relaxing and sedative quality. In the past it was also used for respiratory health since it may reduce irritation of the bronchial tubes and lungs by loosening up mucus. Bronchitis, whooping cough and bronchitis were sometimes treated with Wild Lettuce concoctions in the past.
Wild Lettuce is also, of course, known as a mild analgesic. Though it is not related to opium in any way, it does have some relaxing, pain-killing and mildly euphoric qualities. It may even be helpful for some folks who live with occasional or frequent migraines. There are some anecdotal reports that using the herb regularly resulted in fewer or less severe headaches.
You can prepare it in an infusion or tea, make a tincture, honey based syrup or glycerine tinctures are also possible here and it might help with the bitter taste of the herb as well. If you make it into a tea, blending with honey and cinnamon or stevia may be helpful. Despite being known as an aphrodisiac in some respects, too much wild lettuce may reduce sexual desire and could be sedating and demotivating.