Some species of lettuce secrete a milky sap called lactucarium. In the 19th century, this was known as 'Lettuce opium' and used as a sedative and a painkiller; to treat insomnia, coughs and flatulence; and as a 'galactogogue' – a breast milk stimulant. It was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia (the official list of legal drugs and food ingredients) until 1916. In the mid-1970s, smokable extracts of lettuce opium were sold in the USA under names like L'Opium and Lettucene. Unfortunately, most were made from ordinary garden lettuce, which doesn’t contain lactucarium. In 2005, an Italian researcher analysed wild lettuce and discovered that, while it is a sedative in low doses, it’s a stimulant in high ones. It contains tropane alkaloids, the active ingredient in cocaine.
The Romans, by contrast, ate wild lettuce after lunch to ease into an afternoon nap as it had soporific qualities. Emperor Domitian served lettuce at the beginning of his feasts however, because he found it funny the idea of his guests feeling sleepy but forcing themselves awake because they were terrified of dropping off in front of the emperor. Modern lettuces have had this quality (and its bitter taste) bred out of it.
In Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909) the rabbits feast on lettuce that proves so soporific they fall asleep and only narrowly escape ending up in Mrs McGregor's rabbit pie.
Lettuce actually shouldn’t be fed to rabbits, as it has little nutritional value and upsets their tummies.
Early lettuces were tall and spindly and, perhaps because of their suggestive shape and white milky sap, were a fertility symbol in ancient Egypt. It was sacred to Min, the god of fertility. When painted or carved, the god is shown with an erect penis as it was thought that his frequent and extensive eating of lettuce helped him ‘perform the sexual act untiringly’.
In ancient Egypt, lettuce was rarely used as food; instead its seeds were used to make oil for cooking, medication and mummification.
Lettuce is divine, although I’m not sure it’s really a food.
Varieties of lettuce include: Amaze, Drunken Woman, Freckles, Kaiser, Midnight Ruffles & Outstanding.
Babe Ruth kept a couple of lettuce leaves in his hat to keep cool.
Lettuce is actually a member of the Sunflower family, Asteraceae.
A poem about Lettuce
‘Lettuce! O Lettuce!
‘Let us, O let us,
‘O Lettuce leaves,
‘O let us leave this tree and eat
‘Lettuce, O let us, Lettuce leaves!’
A poem by Edward Lear (1812-1888) from Chapter IX of The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-popple.
Lettuce flavoured icecream is available in Japan.
The Yazidi Kurds believe it is a sin to eat lettuce.
Tapirs smell of lettuces.