The Original Pain Reliever: Wild Lettuce


Wild Lettuce: The Original Pain Reliever

In 2019, an estimated 20.4% (50 million) of U.S. adults had chronic pain while 8.0% (19.6 million) of adults experienced high impact chronic pain. Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care and, if you’ve ever been in any kind of pain yourself, you know how it can potentially restrict mobility and daily activities, cause anxiety and depression, and ultimately lead to a lower quality of life. While seeking medical care is usually the approach to treat chronic pain (and rightfully so), the usual response from doctors is to prescribe painkillers. Considering we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic, many people wish to steer clear from prescription pain medications and seek  alternative options. So, in honor of Pain Awareness Month this September, we would like to share a safer, highly effective and powerful plant medicine called wild lettuce: The original pain reliever.

What is Wild Lettuce?

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is a botanical native to Europe and Iran. It is oftentimes found growing on the banks of rivers all around the world including central and southern Europe, the United States, Australia, the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, and along the coast of Great Britain. It can be identified by its bright, green, spiny leaves which sprout from a green stem that is occasionally spotted purple, and its yellow flowers which are frequently mistaken for dandelions. Wild lettuce is related to common garden lettuce and, while edible, the leaves are very bitter and may be unpleasant to eat. It can grow up to six feet tall and is ultimately considered a weed. However, wild lettuce has been used for centuries among ancient cultures and is still widely used today for its powerful pain-relieving properties.

History of Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce has a long and rich history of medical use. The first known use of the plant dates back to ancient Egypt where it is believed that Egyptians used it for its psychoactive and aphrodisiac properties. Egyptian hieroglyphics often depict the plant with Min, the god of the desert, lightening and sandstorms, fertility and procreation, and harvest. Min was symbolically represented by wild lettuce and, during the first month of summer, Egyptians held a harvest celebration in Min’s honor in which a statue of Min would be carried aloft on a bed of lettuce in a sacred ritual procession.

During the Roman Empire, the first Roman emperor, Emperor Augusts, built an altar and erected a statue of wild lettuce after using it to recover from an illness. In the 19th century, wild lettuce was often used to treat kidney disorders, oedema (swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs), and jaundice due to its diuretic (causing increased passing of urine) effect. It was also noted that wild lettuce contained putative sedative and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties and could be used to relive headaches, suppress coughing, promote sleep and relieve nervous irritation. Today, herbalists and people who dabble in herbalism continue to utilize wild lettuce for these notable medicinal properties.

Benefits of Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce extracts, such as tinctures, powders, oils, and pills are marketed to treat a range of conditions including anxiety, breathing issues and insomnia. While wild lettuce is an effective treatment for these conditions, its pain-relieving and sedative properties are probably most well-known and can help aid a plethora of conditions that result in chronic pain such as arthritis, joint pain, menstrual cramps, severe migraines, and much, much more. But, what makes wild lettuce an effective pain reliever?

When cut or scratched, wild lettuce secretes a milky, white substance known as lactucarium. The main active compounds in lactucarium are lactupicrin, lactucin, and lactucopicrin. These compounds are comparable to that of opium—a pain-relieving agent extracted from unripe seedpods of the opium poppy—as they both directly impact the central nervous system and inhibit the ability to feel pain. What’s more is that these compounds may also be a more effective and potent option for relieving pain than over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. For example, one study found that a mere 30mg/kg dose of lactucopicrin was comparable to that of ibuprofen given at a dose of 60mg/kg. Although all species of lettuce contain some of this narcotic juice, it has been discovered that wild lettuce contains the most of lactucarium, making it one of the most powerful pain-relieving botanicals found in nature.

If you don’t have chronic pain, you might want to try wild lettuce for its other potential benefits  such as its ability to boost respiratory health, reduce urinary tract problems, and preserve brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. Wild lettuce can also be applied topically to wounds or other skin conditions, as it is thought to have antibacterial properties.

Final Thoughts

Being in pain—from mild pain to chronic pain—can really have a major impact on your life and even the lives of your loved ones. Although prescription and OTC painkillers are truly effective pain relievers, they also come with some potential, serious side effects if taken for a long period of time, including damage to the kidneys, addiction and/or overdose. That said, those who want to avoid taking prescription drugs or even OTC drugs should consider herbal alternative medicine and, while wild lettuce may be the OG pain reliever, there are many other botanicals that provide powerful pain relief. That’s why Vera Herbals combines freshly harvested wild lettuce with California poppy and white willow bark to create “A Dam’ Good Extra Strength Tincture”, which provides ultimate pain relief and relaxation.


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Wesołowska A, Nikiforuk A, Michalska K, Kisiel W, Chojnacka-Wójcik E. Analgesic and sedative activities of lactucin and some lactucin-like guaianolides in mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Sep 19;107(2):254-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2006.03.003. Epub 2006 Mar 17. PMID: 16621374.