Wild Lettuce

Wild LettuceThis large family (Asteraceae), commonly called the Aster Family, consists of 1,314 genera and 21,000 species of herbs, shrubs, climbers and a few trees is found chiefly in temperate and subtropical regions.  The plants are of value to man as ornamentals; a few are insecticides and fish poisons. Although sometimes bitter, the young leaves can be added to fresh salads or boiled and served with butter and vinegar.  The developing flowerheads, before the stems unfold and the flower blooms, impart a unique bitter flavor when added to casseroles. The 1998 edition of the Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines reports that medicines containing wild lettuce are used to treat whooping cough, bronchial inflammation, asthma and urinary tract disease.  The oil of the seeds is used for arteriosclerosis.  An overdose following ingestion of the fresh leaves, as in salads, is associated with sweating, accelerated breathing, tachycardia, pupil dilation, dizziness, ringing in the ears, vision disorder, and feeling sleepy.  The toxicity is relatively low.

OtherCommonName:

Strong-scented Lettuce, Green Endive, Lettuce Opium, Acrid Lettuce, Poison Lettuce, Lactucarium

ScientificName:

Lactuca canadensis

Community:

Edge

PlantStatus:

Native

LifeSpan:

Perennial

PlantHeight:

4 to 10 feet

FruitingTime:

Late June to Mid-October

Distribution:

Quebec to Florida and Texas ~ Statewide in NJ outside the Pine Barrens

FloweringTime:

Late June to Mid-October

IdentifyingCharacteristics:

Stems smooth, dusted with white ~ Leaves extremely variable, deeply lobed to lance-shaped ~ Lower leaves up to 10 inches long ~ Flower numerous, small, pale, dandelionlike ~ Sap bitter and milky