Wild Lettuce, Woodland Lettuce

by Green Deane

in Greens/Pot Herb,Plants

Lactuca Floridana early in the season

  Lactuca floridana:  Let Us Eat Wild Lettuce

Lactuca floridana has blue blossoms

Wild lettuce is not as tame as garden lettuce.

Garden lettuce is one of those nearly flavorless nearly nutritionless affectations of agriculture. Don’t misunderstand me: I like domesticated lettuce. But it is the milquetoast of the lettuce world. It’s genteel. Wild lettuce still has some kick to it. That kick is bitterness, which comes from the latex sap. Thus wild lettuce breaks one of the cardinal rules of foraging: Avoid white sap. It is one of a half dozen or so plants with white sap that is edible in some way. In the case of wild lettuce, boiling. When young the bitterness is less pronounced, and in some species is very mild or missing.

Note veins on leaves and uneven lobes

There are many species of wild lettuce. (See Lettuce Labyrinth) All grow rank as they age, so it is best to harvest them between four and 12 inches high. Woodland Lettuce tends to have lobed leaves on bottom and grassy leaves on top. Look for a V-shaped leaf stem and pure white milky sap.  It’s one of my favorite spring time greens, boiled for about 10 minutes and served warm with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Depending on size, I chop them up and eat stems and all.

Lactuca (lak-TOO-ka) is a Latin form of lac, an illusion to the milky sap. Floridana is Latin for of Florida. Some Lactuca, by the way, are diuretic, such as the L. scariola. The dried sap of some of the species, L. virosa,  mimics opium but the sap is difficult to collect and it only puts one to sleep, temporarily

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Plant has milky sap. Tall plant with lobbed green leaves, often powdery gray-green, dandelion-like flower cluster except blue, not yellow.  The lactuca changes little in appearance from young to old, only growing larger, with more lobs on the leaves. End lobe on old leaves is arrow shaped. There can be much variation with some Lactuca having straight leaves with out any lobes at all. Look for flowers on many spikes rather than a cluster. The underside of lower leaves usually have a few hairs along the stem.

TIME OF YEAR: Spring time.

ENVIRONMENT: Lawns, fields, vacant lots, waste areas, parks.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves in salads, tend to be bitter, older leaves boiled for 10/15 minutes.  I like them with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Also eaten are L. canadensis, L. intybacea, L. scariola and L. muralis.

 

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rita Teele January 17, 2013 at 01:52

Any idea about the Vitamin C content of Lactuca muralis? It is very common near the river here in New Zealand–in an area that was mined for gold 1862 and later. Miner’s lettuce is here as well. We are wondering whether wall lettuce was specially brought to combat scurvy that was rife on the gold fields.

Love your website and videos–Rita Teele from the South Island

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2 Green Deane January 17, 2013 at 06:24

As a species wild lettuce have almost no vitamin C.

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3 Ann Francis May 29, 2014 at 10:43

Isn’t this chicory?

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4 Green Deane May 29, 2014 at 15:35

No. The leaf stem is shaped differently in chicory, oval vs triangular.

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5 betty Jones June 13, 2014 at 14:03

Can you use the roots of wild lettuce for anything?

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6 Green Deane June 13, 2014 at 15:17

Not that I’ve heard of.

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