If you suffer from insomnia, this common weed could be your best friend. It can provide deep relaxation and a delicious, gritty-eyed, cuddly sleepiness when you are wound up and your mind is racing and you find that you can’t get to sleep or stay asleep for long.
Last month I started a bunch of new things in my life. I changed my work schedule, started massage school, began doing some computer consulting work on the side… there were a lot of new things to absorb and a lot to juggle. I was quite wound up and often had trouble getting to sleep, and when I did, I slept lightly and woke just a few hours later to begin tossing and turning for the rest of the night.
Just when I was getting desperate, I found the prickly lettuce (Lactuca scariola) growing tall and strong right at the edge of the yard. To make sure I had the correct plant ID, I felt the row of prickles along the bottom mid-vein of its leaves, and then plucked off one to see the yellowy sap oozing out. Sap will ooze out of any part of the plant that you break off. I ate about half a leaf, tasting its sweet, slightly bitter, flavor. The young leaves are often used in salads, though the older leaves can get much too bitter for eating.
After eating the leaf, I began gathering what I needed to make a quart of tincture. I felt super relaxed as I walked around the edge of the yard snipping the stalks. Not drugged at all, just calm and relaxed. I also began to feel pleasantly tired and sleepy. I hadn’t felt that in sooooo very long. Delicious.
After I chopped up my harvest and put it in a labeded jar with 100 proof vodka, it was time to get ready for bed. I went through my usual bedtime routine, tidying up, washing up, laying out clothes for the next day, etc, all the while feeling very calm, very relaxed, and knowing that I would have no problem falling asleep that night. I crawled into bed, went right to sleep, and slept soundly the entire night — the first time in over a month!
I have purchased wild lettuce tincture in the past and knew it could help me sleep, but that’s really all I knew about it. Last week I got my hot little hands on Matthew Wood’s new The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants and have now learned a few more things about this plant.
According to the profile in Wood’s book, I can see why it works so well for me. “It is indicated for stiff sore persons with painful muscles, especially the lower back. The pulse is slow and hard… [which] indicates ‘cold blockage’ or ‘internal cold’… Sometimes there is slight evidence of the heat that is being blocked… it produces red margins of the eyelids, allergies, and facial acne.” (p. 307, 308)
I had been very, very cold this past winter, and very, very stiff and sore, especially in my lower back. After reading this I looked in the mirror and sure enough there were red margins around my eyelids also.
He goes on to write that Lactuca also addresses hormonal imbalances caused by excess of androgen — think teenage acne as a common manifestation of this. It has also been used to cure “dropsy” (water retention, edema). Acne and edema — two more conditions that I have dealt with in the past. Seems I have a lot of affinity for this herb.
However, even if you don’t fit the profile completely, I think it would be beneficial to almost anyone who needs a little help relaxing and sleeping. It is very gentle and effective for that purpose, and unlike most pharmaceuticals on the market for that purpose, it is non-addictive. I plan to make it a permanent part of my herbal medicine chest.