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Wild Prickly Lettuce. The love of Aphrodite and the death of Adonis.

Lactuca serriola
Wild Prickly Lettuce
An annual plant
or biennial plant
-It can grow to over 6 feet in height
-found in fields, disturbed sites such as roadsides,
vacant lots
-Originally a plant from Europe. Originating first
In Eurasia.

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New leaves of wild prickly lettuce/Lactuca serriola
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The flowers of wild prickly lettuce

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The leaves. Lobed and Un-Lobed of wild prickly lettuce

These 3 pictures from:

http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/WEEDS/prickly_lettuce.html

***Use a good field guide to identify plants. Forage with someone who knows.***

I often refer to:
Edible Wild Plants. By Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman. Sterlingpublishing.com
*Plus I research numerable other sources…please do the same.*
********************************************

Wild Prickly Lettuce on the side of the road in Idaho
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Well, our semi-trailer truck broke down. A great spill of oil from our engine. A deplorable event for the immediate environment and for our day. Wouldn’t you know it? We broke down to the closest town. Bliss, Idaho.

Once we sussed out what was going on. Put the emergency triangles out. Made calls to emergency repair trucks (who ended up ripping us off for $300,) got the pets comfortable, made calls, sipped on water in the difficult heat with no AC…made lunch to fuel our reservoir of energy for dealing and enduring what became a 9 hour or longer wait by the side of the road, made more calls, waited twice for tow trucks that didn’t come, had our hopes dashed when one of the tow trucks forgot to bring required equipment. Tried to navigate our options. Finally in the late evening we got towed to the Freightliner 50 or so miles away. Cha-ching what a day.

Amidst all this chaos and lapses in the heat. I couldn’t help but admire the wild prickly lettuce greeting me assuredly from the side of the road. The name of my blog is wildlettucegal…I knew eventually, sooner than later, I would have amassed that lovely combo of timing, information, inspiration to write and the opportunities to inspect and photograph the lettuce.

I even wrote a blog about the road breakdown but, I deleted it. It lacked the oomph. I needed to tap into the tipping point of inspiration. And, today, two days later…I have found it.

As a child I was happily feverish about reading Greek and Roman mythology. I would spend hours, especially, reading about Odysseus or Ulysses. Other myths fascinated me. Medusa fascinated/terrified me. Images of her snake filled crown devastated my ability to sleep at night. The age of nine is when I distinctly remember flipping through a book on Greek mythology…only to be transfixed by her graphic image. Beheaded no less.

Needless to say I could have benefitted from wild lettuce’s soporific, dream inducing qualities. Being nine was a bad year for insomnia. That’s when I saw clips from the exorcist. Cinema’s graphic and gorey cinematic mythology. I did not sleep much at the age of nine.

I now have a tattoo of Medusa on my arm. When I started painting 15 years ago…Medusa was my first series of paintings. Somewhere during that series I remembered an image of myself at the age of nine flipping through a Greek mythology book and spotting the image of Medusa for the first time. I’m glad I took the art route around that one.

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So, as you may now understand, in my quirky sense of jubilance…and even current interest in mythology old and new, I was thrilled to learn the mythology connected to wild prickly lettuce.

According to Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactuca_serriola

The lovely, passionate and triumphant goddess Aphrodite had put to final rest the lovely mortal Adonis who was slain by a boar.

She was transfixed by this beautiful mortal and grieved of his loss.

Aphrodite laid Adonis to rest on a bed of wild lettuce.

Sappho is also known to write and account this myth.

(Wild lettuce has a connection to the world of the dead and I wonder if it is its soporific qualities which provides this kind of mythological link. The dreamworld perhaps being a portal to the world of the dead. Or perhaps a closer realm?)

The Egyptian god Min is also associated with wild prickly lettuce.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Min_(god)

The ancient greeks believed the juice of the plant was good for eye ulcers.
The Navajo use it as a ceremonial emetic.
It has a reputation as being calming and sleep inducing for insomniacs. It is even said to have mild opiate qualities.

Even today wild prickly lettuce is eaten in Crete. A variety of Maroula or agrimaroulo is eaten boiled. Culinary traditions remain to this day.

I’ve never tried it for anything other than an edible wild food but wouldn’t mind its calming effect either.
Similar to purslane which contains lithium. I like when food helps me feel better. But, I’m not recommending an overuse of the plant.

The plant seems to have a built in mechanism for overuse. Eating too many leaves causes stomach upset. And the seeds contain some tannins.

*For those of you interested in the healing aspects and indications of wild lettuce…here is a helpful site.

http://www.herbalextractsplus.com/wild-lettuce.html

*Also, here is a comprehensive page about Wild Lettuce which also distinguishes it from
Lactuca virosa

http://wildlettuce.com/

Wikipedia describes Lactuca virosa as well:

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactuca_virosa

Here is a picture of Lactuca virosa

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This image is from the following source:
© Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary’s College. Permission to use is granted freely to not-for-profit organizations and for a per-image fee for commercial use. Contact Prof. R. P. Olowin at St. Mary’s College rpolowin@stmarys-ca.edu for more information.

And it is used medicinally and/or as a mild psychotropic but is not my focus here and has a wide range of historical use, but, not necessarily as wild edible. There are also a lot of side effects to its use. But, I wanted to include it here so as to distinguish it from the wild edible Lactuca serriola

Back to and in regard to Lactuca serriola

*I like the harvesting ethics outlined by Merriweather

http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/foraging-ethics.html

NUTRITION AND HARVESTING TIPS:

*Lactuca serriola a.k.a. wild prickly lettuce is an annual or biennial plant so leave some plants to reproduce by seed.
*according to Elias and Dykeman: Leaf shapes can vary and can be multilobed/with points and/or oval oblong. Leaves are toothed and spiny along margin and main vein under leaf and the lower leaf surface.Proper identification is crucial.*
*I’ve read that older leaves are slightly toxic
*According to Merriweather,when the wild prickly lettuce plant flowers it is said to be inedible.
*Harvest young leaves they are the most tender
*Best to harvest from plants under 8 inches.
*older/larger leaves can be eaten when boiled
*Edible during spring and summer before the plant flowers or is in seed
*the spines on back of middle vein of leaf are usually soft enough to be eaten when the leaves are small.
*the spines on leaves do not tear clothing or injure
skin. But gloves may be useful re: sap, etc.
*leaves can be boiled as a pot green.

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This tasted good with boiled greens just 2 or 3 minutes added to pasta. :-)

Herbalextractsplus.com sites these NUTRITIONAL qualities also:
When dried, the leaves produce a milky latex substance called lactucarium, which is used in herbal medicine. Some of the constituents in Wild Lettuce include the important milky latex substance (lactucarium), sesquiterpene lactones ( lactucopicrin), caoutchouc, mannitol, lactucin, fiber, coumarins and valuable minerals and vitamins.

Beneficial Uses: Wild Lettuce is considered a mild sedative herb.

ADDITIONAL NUTRITION:
Contains vitamin A, B and minerals

*I agree with Merriweather and only harvest one or two leaves per plant. I also consider how many plants are in the area I am harvesting from. Also look at the plant and harvest in such a way as not to kill the plant if you can.

Here is a picture of a young plant:
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And here is a couple of pictures featuring the spines on back vein of a leaf:

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Wikipedia describes:
It is known as the compass plant because in the sun the upper leaves twist round to hold their margins upright. [3]

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Here are some new flowers emerging. I was happy to find these.

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And here is a picture of wild prickly lettuce when it is a bit larger
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Flowers developing:
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And flowers sprouted out on long stems from the top
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And a closeup view of flower buds
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The leaves have a bit of a firm texture. Even the new leaves. The prickles on main vein of back of leaf are edible when new leaves are raw.

I thought the leaves would be good in a salad.
I tasted them raw and un-garnished and they do have a bitter aftertaste. But, I enjoyed them.
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I also harvest 1 or 2 leaves per plant to avoid over-harvesting. I grasp the leaf and carefully strip it from the stalk. Another forager taught me this tip. You can see the ends on the leaves above were harvested this way rather than being sheered off.

You may want to wear gloves because the sap was milky. This may cause irritation to skin and it was sticky.

More on Mythology and Cultural Accounts of use of Wild Prickly Lettuce that inspired me to write this blog are these entries:

I found this on Mesocosm.net

a Sumerian poem about lettuce

Lettuce is My Hair

My hair is lettuce, [planted] by the water,
It is gukkal-lettuce, [planted] by the water….
My attendant arranges it,
The attendant arranges my hair which is lettuce, the most-favored of plants.
The brother brought me into his life-giving gaze,
Shu-Sin has called me to (his) refreshing …. without [end].
[...]
You are our lord, you are our lord,
Silver (and) lapis lazuli – you are our lord,
Farmer who makes the grain stand high, – you are our lord,
For him who is the honey of my eye, who is the lettuce of my heart,
May the days of life come forth…..
It is a balbale of Inanna.

Translated by S. N. Kramer, from the indispensable volume
Pritchard JB (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press. 1969.

***And, finally I found this wonderful site on plants in mythology and have excerpted their info on Prickly Lettuce here:

http://www.theoi.com/Flora1.html

LETTUCE, PRICKLY

Greek : Thridax
Species : Lactuca serriola
Description : The ancient Greeks cultivated the wild prickly lettuce. The plant has tall stalks with elongated leaves, yellow flowers and feathery seeds. The ball-shaped lettuce of today is a derivitive species (Lactuca sativa).
Sacred to : Aphrodite (the plant was associated with impotency)
Mythology : Death of Adonis. Adonis was a handsome youth loved by the goddess Aphrodite. He was slain by a wild boar in a bed of lettuce, or was laid out amongst the plants by the goddess following his death. The lettuce was therefore regarded as the plant of the death of love, and so of impotency. Others say that the baby Adonis was hidden in a lettuce bed by the goddess following his birth from the trunk of the tree Myrrha. (Source: Athenaeus)

Death of Adonis by Peter Paul Rubens
Death of Adonis by Luca Giordano
Aphrodite and Adonis, Attic red-figurearyballos-shaped lekythos by Aison, ca. 410 BC,Louvre.
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