Lactuca serriola (60 days) Biennial to Zone 5; readily grows as a spring-sown annual. Prickly lettuce, also known as bitter lettuce, is grown for its medicinal benefits even though this wild species, native to Europe and Asia, is the ancestor of cultivated culinary lettuce. Young leaves are edible, though bitter, which has promulgated its use as a bitter herb of Passover. Though commonly referred to as Opium Lettuce, the effects are less euphoric and more sedative, perhaps useful for taking the edge off—perfect for these stressful pandemic times! Ancient Egyptians used the plant for mild pain relief. As with all potent medicinals, caution is advised not to overdo usage. We also recommend harvest before the plants set seed to avoid their propensity to rapidly spread out of bounds. This summer, while strolling through the rich smorgasbord of plants at Edgewood Nursery, I asked Aaron if he had ever grown this plant. He gestured toward what looked like design elements of bolting lettuce. Score! The seeds were just coming into readiness. Grows to 5' with rangy yellow flowers. Sow outside in cool temperatures; heat will inhibit germination, which may take up to 3 weeks. ①
About medicinal herbs: Archeological evidence dates the medicinal use of herbs back 60,000 years to the Neanderthals. 85% of the world’s population employ herbs as medicines, and 40% of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. contain plant-derived materials. Fewer than 10% of higher plant species have been investigated for their medicinal components. Interest in traditional herbal remedies continues to grow.
Statements about medicinal use of plants have not been evaluated by the FDA, and should not be used for the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any ailment. Before using or ingesting any medicinal plant, consult a healthcare practitioner familiar with botanical medicine.
Culture: Some herbs are customarily grown from divisions because they cannot come true from seed, such as scented thymes and flavored mints. Some require fall sowing of fresh seed, such as sweet cicely and angelica.
Using herbs: Drying herbs at home is not difficult. Whole leaves retain their flavor at least a year. To substitute fresh herbs for dried in cooking, use triple the dried quantity called for in a recipe.
For the latest results of our germination tests, please see the germination page.