Lechuguillas (Lactuca virosa)

Wild lettuce ( Lactuca virosa ) is a wild plant, related to lettuce, but is not edible.


Wild lettuce is a plant belonging to the Asteraceae family, of European origin, biennial, with a widely branched root. The stem is straight, hollow, branched and smooth, usually exceeding one meter in height. It has leaves very lightly ornamented with fine spikes on the edges, which are always smooth, unlike the serrata lactuca, which is serrated, bluish-green or purple by the action of cold. The inflorescence is formed by a small spike of light yellow capitula. The fruits are black and small in size.


The plant possesses various chemical compounds: alkaloids, organic acids and bitter substances, esters (lactucerol), lactupicrin and lactucin, alcohols, enzymes.

Powerful narcotic, hypnotic and sedative effects. The ingestion of this infusion calms nervous excitement. Lactucarium (a word apparently related to opiarium) is obtained by making incisions in the lactiferous vessels of the stem of the plant. It has a similar action to opium, but does not create dependence, which is why wild lettuce is also known as lettuce opium.


In Egyptian papyri dated around 1600 B.C., wild lettuce is cited as a remedy for various ailments. It was documented by the botanist Dioscorides in his works as “friend of the stomach; it provokes sleep, softens the belly…”. The plant has been used for centuries for its sedative and anesthetic properties. In the Caucasus and Turkestan, Lactuca virosa was a plant used by the dervishes, who consumed its latex pure or mixed with hashish to have visions and enter into a trance. In the 18th and 19th centuries, physicians and pharmacists regularly used Lactucarium, an extract from the latex of the plant, when opium was not available. In rural areas of France and Spain, the use of the decoction of wild lettuce stems and leaves as a sleeping pill was relatively popular at the end of the same century.