The little-known life of lettuce—and how it can help you beat insomnia, diabetes, and more

The little-known life of lettuce—and how it
can help you beat insomnia, diabetes, and more

I wonder if the regulators in Washington, D.C., stay up nights worrying about lettuce. After all, it has been used as a substitute for opium (not since the Middle Ages, but still-these are the sorts of things bureaucrats lose sleep over). Apparently, there’s a whole world surrounding lettuce I had no idea about. And I don’t just mean its sordid past as an opiate.

It has some surprising benefits that span a number of different aspects of health-from insomnia to diabetes and just about everything in between.

A tossed salad of benefits

Let’s start with its effects on insomnia. Lettuce is a better sleep inducer than any of the “sleep-eezes” in the drug store. Lactucarium (I never heard of it either) is the ingredient in lettuce that gives it its sedative and hypnotic properties. Back in the 19th century, opium addicts drank a concoction containing it when they couldn’t get the drug itself.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to get the same effect with the solution I’ll tell you about later, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, it could do the trick.

If you’ve had enough lettuce for the day, skip down to the next article. But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about some of the other purported properties of this neglected herb.

Lettuce appears to have a diuretic effect, which can help lower blood sugar. It also has a carminative effect; i.e., it relieves flatulence and that full feeling you get when you have made a pig of yourself.

I don’t know how you are going to respond to this next gem (sometimes you surprise me), but, according to some of the information I read, lettuce has an anaphrodisiac action. That is, it appeases the sexual appetite. I’m sure you have noticed that you don’t see many promos for products that weaken the sexual appetite, so I’m not sure how much use this aspect will be for you. But, who knows? Maybe we’re missing a market here. (How’s this for an ad for next year’s Super Bowl: “I give my husband Lowvitra for those special days”)

And speaking of those “special days,” according to the herbal literature, lettuce decoctions are also effective in relieving menstrual cramps.

Action to take:

I can’t vouch for any of these claims, since I haven’t actually tried lettuce for any of the above purposes. But Plinius (“Pliny”), one of the greatest naturalists of all time, recommended lettuce. Pliny was, literally, an expert on everything. He was very knowledgeable in medicine but had very little respect for the doctors of the times (which is one of the reasons I have so much respect for him). So if it was good enough for one of the greatest naturalists who ever lived, it’s good enough for you (and me).

To make your own lettuce tonic, try cooking a head of iceberg lettuce in a crockpot on low for 24 hours. Take out the wilted leaves and toss them in the garbage and save the liquid in a bottle or jar.

I recommend taking small amounts to start-a 4-oz. glassful seems reasonable. If it doesn’t knock you out for 12 hours, you can increase it to 8 oz.

Anyway, whether or not they’re losing sleep over it, I don’t think the Feds will outlaw lettuce any time soon, which is more than I can say for lots of other natural remedies. File this report in a safe place-you may need it sooner than you think.


“Lactuca Sativa L.: Lettuce,” Botanical (, accessed 6/8/05