One of the biggest concerns in prep survival or bushcraft is finding natural remedies for ailments. With the drug stores closed and doctors in short supply we will have to turn back to nature for aid. Fortunately there is a pain reliever that can commonly be found across the globe, wild lettuce.
Wild lettuce is a plant which can grow 6 feet tall. It has yellow flowers and spiny leaves. The Latin name “lactuca” means “milk juice” and refers to the milky substance (Lactucarium) which comes out of the plant when it is cut. That milky substance contains the natural chemicals lactucin and lacttucopicrin. These are the substances which are responsible for it’s pain killing properties.
The plant has a long history of medical use going back to ancient Egypt where depictions of it were seen in hieroglyphics. During the Roman Empire, Emperor Augustus built an altar to the plant after using it to recover from illness. It is often called “opium lettuce” because it was used during the 19th century when opium couldn’t be obtained. Don’t let the name “lettuce opium” put you off though. The plant is not addictive and does NOT cause the side effects of opiates such as upset stomach.
Where Wild Lettuce Can Be Found
While indigenous to the Himalayan region of India, wild lettuce can be found growing in the United States in areas like Washington State. Foragers claim that it was used by Native Americans as a natural pain reliever and medicinal remedy. In England, you can find it in the East and Southeast parts. You can also find the plant in Europe, particularly the central and southern parts.
Identifying Wild Lettuce
Identification can be a bit tricky because it closely resembles dandelion (Taraxacum) and milk thistle (Lactuca serriola). When young, wild lettuce has short leaves that grow in clusters. As it gets older, it develops a thick stalk with long leaves coming off of it. The leaves are smooth and a light green color. Sometimes the leaves have purple spots on them and the root will be brown. When you cut the stalk or leaves, you’ll see a white milky substance known as latex come out immediately. The latex turns yellow and then brown as its dries and hardens.
Most of us are familiar with how dandelion looks in our yards. However, when dandelion gets older, you might mistake it for wild lettuce.
Here’s how to spot the difference:
* Height: Dandelion usually doesn’t grow taller than 1.5 feet. Wild lettuce grows up to 6 feet tall.
* Number of Flowers: Dandelions have just one flower. Wild lettuce has multiple flowers.
* Flower Size: Dandelion flowers are usually around 1.5 inches wide. Wild lettuce flowers are small at around ¼ inch wide.
* Stalk: Dandelion will not grow a thick stalk as it grows older. Wild lettuce will get a thick almost woody stalk.
Vs. Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola)
Here is where identification gets tricky. Its cousin lactuca serriola looks a lot like it and their flowers are identical.
Since lactuca serriola is found more commonly, you might think you’ve got wild lettuce when it is really prickly lettuce.
Here’s how to spot the difference:
* Height: Wild lettuce grows taller than prickly lettuce.
* Stalk: Wild lettuce is thicker than prickly lettuce.
* Leaves: This is the best way to tell the difference between the plants. Wild lettuce has leaves which aren’t as divided and spread out more.
All plants contains the active medicinal components. However, these components are low in young plants. Thus, it is best to harvest when it is an adult, right after its flowering period. It typically flowers between June and August, but this can vary depending on the climate. To tell whether it is ready for harvesting, just cut the stalk. The milky sap should flow out readily. If it doesn’t, then the plant isn’t ready yet.
The milky sap from the stem is the most potent part of the lettuce. Traditionally, wild lettuce was harvested by making cuts in the stalks, letting the sap ooze out, and then letting it dry. The dried sap would be collected. This traditional harvesting method is very time-consuming and tedious. You might consider just eating the leaves fresh. They are very nutritious (though quite bitter). However, you won’t get a very concentrated dosage this way. You are better of using one of the methods below.
The pain-relieving components are soluble in water. Thus, one of the easiest ways to get the benefits is to make tea from it.
1. Gather leaves.
2. Dry the leaves (If using a dehydrator, make sure you use the low heat setting so you don’t destroy the active compounds).
3. Grind the leaves.
4. Mix 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves with 1 cup of water.
5. Let steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain and drink.
6. Repeat up to 3x per day.
Note that wild lettuce tea has a very bitter taste. Add some honey and lemon to make the taste better. You can also mix it with other types of tea to mask the taste.
Extracts are very easy to make, but you have to be careful that you don’t overheat the plant. The active components are sensitive to heat.
If the mixture ever comes to a boil or starts sticking to the bottom of the pan, the active components of the wild lettuce will be destroyed.
1. Gather leaves.
2. Put in a blender.
3. Blend for just a few seconds. You don’t want to completely blend up the leaves.
4. Pour the ground leaves into a pot.
5. Add just enough water to cover.
6. Put the pot on a stove at LOW heat.
7. DO NOT LET THE MIXTURE BOIL!
8. Heat for 30 minutes, stirring often.
9. The water should turn a very dark green color.
10. Strain the leaves through a fine mesh (pantyhose works well for this).
11. Collect the liquid.
12. Put the liquid into a clean pot.
13. Heat on LOW again.
14. Stir frequently. Make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
15. The water will evaporate, leaving behind a concentrate of wild lettuce extract.
Dosage depends a lot on the potency of the plant you used, how you are consuming it, and your individual tolerance. With natural remedies, it is often best to start with a small dosage and see how you react. Then you can increase the dose as necessary.
Here are some basic guidelines for pain relief:
* Tea: 1-2 teaspoons of dried wild lettuce seeped in 1 cup of water, 3x per day.
* Resin: Take about 1.5 grams of resin as needed.
Natural remedies may become your only resource for medicine in a survival situation. Be sure to add wild lettuce to your list of possibilities and keep on foraging!