In 1909, Beatrix Potter published The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. The story begins with the following words: It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is "soporific." I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit. They certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies!

I won't spoil the end of the story here, but in the story, the bunnies eat the sprouted lettuce in the garden and fall fast asleep. She uses an the old fashioned word “soporific” to describe the effect. It comes from the Latin word for drowsy or sleep inducing, soporus. The Greeks and Romans referred to wild lettuce as such, as well as noting its usefulness against fevers and colds.

Medical research confirms this. We can take one example of a study of the efficacy of lettuce seed oil in treating insomnia. In a study published in 2011, 72% of participants with insomnia showed a very much or much improved quality of sleep from taking 1000mg of lettuce seed oil before bed. The tradition of lettuce seed oil as a medicine goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. It is said that it was also used for mummification.

Another study in 2005 expounded upon the specific neurochemistry involved in the analgesic and sedative properties of the active compounds found in wild lettuce. This study was specifically done in mice, but the chemistry is the same. Mice were given lactucin and its derivatives, and were then tested for their slowed responses. The results showed sedative effects for up to 90 minutes after being administered the lactucin. Perhaps if Beatrix Potter had been a neuroscientist, she would have done this research on rabbits!

The biochemical effects of sequiterpene lactones on the human body are well known. They produce sedative and relaxing effects by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme, an enzyme responsible for stress and inflammation. The ancients knew long ago that sprouted lettuce, or wild lettuce, was soporific. That's why it has been used as a natural calmative throughout history.