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Wild lettuce may be found year-round. For foraging purposes, greens are best in winter and early spring.
Wild lettuce is a biennial in the sunflower family. Botanically known as Lactuca virosa, common names also include bitter lettuce, Wild lettuce, prickly lettuce and opium lettuce. Though its leaves are edible, Wild lettuce is primarily used for therapeutic purposes. A mild sedative called Lactucarium is derived from the milky latex of its stem.
Wild lettuce grows in loose clusters at the base of a central flowering stalk. Leaves are oblong and 15-45 cm in length. Their margins vary from a smooth edge to deeply lobed. Plants can grow as high as two meters. Wild lettuce blossoms resemble that of a dandelion, with multiple flowers occurring on each plant. The leaves of Wild lettuce should be foraged in the cooler months of late winter and early spring. This is when they are most tender and have a mild earthy flavor with minimal bitterness.
Wild lettuce contains Vitamin A and fiber. Its latex interior has narcotic effects and is used to treat insomnia, anxiety and irritable coughs.
Young Wild lettuce leaves may be used raw in salads. Mature leaves are tough and should be cooked to tenderize and remove harsh astringents. The bitter quality of Wild lettuce adds balance and freshness to rich ingredients like bacon, goat cheese, eggs, garlic, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, and nuts.
Wild lettuce resin was smoked by the Hopi before sleeping because they believed that it induced vision dream states. Ancient Greeks and Romans used Wild lettuce as a cure-all to treat everything from menstrual pains to disease.
The origins of Wild lettuce are traced back to ancient Egypt where hieroglyphics often depict Min, a fertility god, with the plant. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and psychoactive substance. Today Wild lettuce may be found growing in southern parts of the United States and across central and southern Europe. It grows in well-drained sandy soils around fields, vacant lots and roadsides.
Recipes that include Wild Lettuce. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Lehigh Valley Style||Wild Lettuce Salad with Crispy Bacon and Hickory Dressing|
|Annie's Remedy||Wild Lettuce Relaxation Tea|
|Wild Table||Cream Of Wild Lettuce Soup|
|Edible Wild Food||Wild Pizza|