Great Prickly Lettuce

(Lactuca virosa) Medieval naturalists reckoned that eagles kept their eyes keen by eating hawkweed and wild lettuce. Another piece of medieval belief was that dragons used the juice as a spring tonic (Hulme. 1895). This plant has the milky juice common to all members of the genus, but it has been actually cultivated both in Britain and in Europe for it (Usher). For this juice hardens when exposed to the air, and produces a gum called lactucaria, or lettuce opium (Brouk), which has distinct narcotic and soporific qualities (Brownlow). All lettuces are slightly narcotic, but none more so than this one. Gerard reported that it "procures sleepe", and also that "the seed taken in drinke, like as the garden lettuce, hindreth the generation of seed and venerous imaginations". The last is interesting, for Ibykos, the Pythagoran poet, called the lettuce by the name eunuch; in other words, it puts to sleep, that is, renders stupid and impotent (Gubernatis. 1872). They say that if vinegar is added to lettuce, its soporific virtue is destroyed (Leyel. 1926). The leaf extract used to be recommended in small doses for dropsy (Thornton).

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