I like my hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and the email I get. Many of the questions I can answer or I can refer the writer to where the answer can be found. But….
One question I have answered hundreds of times — if not thousands — still constantly lands in my mail box daily. It’s about getting high off wild lettuce. I used to cut and paste an answer. Now I just delete the emails. Why the interested in this species? It can be traced to an exaggerated entry on Wikipedia (which if you remember correctly is not authoritative. I have found so many plant mistakes in “Wikipathetica” I have stopped correcting them. Forager Beware!)
Here’s the bottom line. The species in question is Lactuca virosa. It is a native of Europe, not North America. Officially grows wild in six places in the United States: One county in Alabama, Washington DC, and four counties in California. It could be more wide-spread that that. I’ve one subscriber tell me it grows in Georgia. If you collect a lot of Lactuca virosa sap — not easy — dry it and ingest it you might take the edge off a toothache and fall asleep. A shot of vodka will do the same thing, is a lot easier to find and much cheaper in the long run. It does have medicinal uses but it is mostly a minor player.
Consider this: The U.S. military looked into it as a pain killer during WWII. It flunked. Lactuca virosa is so weak no one wants to outlaw it, even in Europe where it grows everywhere. On the other hand, there is a mint species growing near me that has a chemical in it that is the most abused chemical by physicians and nurses. No one is selling it as a high so it’s not plastered all over the internet….wait… how could I have been so stupid?
Maybe I can make some money here…This other plant is legal, but it grows all over the place locally…. I’d have to make it a scarcity somehow… I know… I could solar dry it (cheap) and call it “naturally processed to retain all of its potency” …. I could call it a little-known “ethnobotanical” (that’s what the lettuce sellers call their stuff.) I could hype it as a native and say this “mood enhancer” is the preferred recreational drug of choice among medical professionals…. and they know drugs! I could make a fortune…. Dang! I shoulda thought of this years ago….
I also know for a fact that many have considered making this mint member illegal — the drug in it is controlled — and the plant would be illegal if not for the fact it grows wild all over the place. That would be my financial downfall… I can’t realistically corner the market. The plant is prolific…. And the moment you educate your customers they’ll be gone, picking their own stuff. Oh well… one can dream of riches….
As for those of you who want to go find the European lettuce in the U.S. have at it… if you want to know where that lettuce grows, find a Google search window, type in Lactuca virosa USDA then scroll down and look at the map. Happy hunting… and please don’t ask me about it again….I’m going to go make me a cup of special mint tea… and relax…..