Wild lettuce for stress relief
We've already seen in these short blurbs why wild lettuce is used as a pain remedy and natural sleep aid. The main compound at work is called lactucin, and its derivative lactucopicrin. They act upon the system responsible for stress and inflammation in the body.
Recently some very interesting studies on analgesics and stress have been performed. One famous study showed that acetaminophen, the active chemical in Tylenol, could reduce the stress associated with social rejection. Social rejection stress, is an emotional pain felt for example during a romantic breakup. Social rejection stress can cause physical pain such as stomach aches, headaches, and have other effects like sleepless nights. Acetaminophen was shown to not only reduce physical pain, but emotional pain as well.
Other research on analgesics shows the same. It doesn't stop there though. Research shows that analgesics dull emotions in general. This effect of lessening how much one give a damn is kind of at the heart of stress reduction. This brings up a funny dichotomy that has existed with wild lettuce since the beginning of time. Some cultures, such as the ancient Egyptians claimed that wild lettuce was an aphrodisiac. The Greeks claimed that it reduced the sexual appetite. So which is it? Does it get you up, or get you down?
This funny question can be answered by rephrasing the question, what does it mean to be “up” and what does it mean to be down? For sure lettuce has been used since ancient times to soothe the nerves, but the Egyptians equated lettuce with fertility and the act of procreation.
I'll save allot of this juicy smut for another post, but needless to say when one takes into consideration the sprouting of lettuce and the fact that it will ooze a white milk when cut, and you have a recipe for an ancient fertility god. This wasn't any small matter either. The Egyptian god was called Min and there were many integral parts of the culture that involved him and his worship.
The most important was the festival of Min, held during the first month of the Egyptian summer. This festival was massive. The whole thing was documented in the seminal work of Claas Jouco Bleeker, Die Geburt eines Gottes : eine Studie über den ägyptischen Gott Min und sein Fest. Since you probably don't speak German; The Birth of a God: A Study of the Egyptian God Min and His Festival. This book was published way back in 1956, and has an incredibly detailed representation of the festival of Min taken from buildings constructed for the pharaohs. The most complete representation coming from Ramses III.
The Greeks on the other hand had the exact opposite opinion towards lettuce. This is a bit of research that I have yet to clarify. I'm not sure how Greek and Egyptian mythology are related, but there are many parallels between the Egyptian god Min and the Greek god Adonis. I wont expound too much on it here, but they are both fertility gods with legends connected to lettuce, they both had enormous sexual appetites, and they both died in strange ways. They also both appear to be related to the constellation Orion.
Whilst the Egyptians saw lettuce as a sex symbol, the Greeks drew from their mythology and saw lettuce as something that cooled the sexual appetites. Their legend of Adonis puts this into allegory, as Adonis having been gored by a boar, dies hiding in a field of cultivated lettuce.
The ancient Greek botanist Dioscorides, in his five volume work De Materia Medica had allot to say about lettuce. To paraphrase, he said that a man under sixty should never eat lettuce, and that it if he did and took a woman to bed he would not be able to do what he wanted to do, even with a helping hand. Dioscorides said that the nature of lettuce was not cold in the ultimate way, but rather cold in the way of natural springs. He said that it was better for wet dreams, rather than the actual act of love-making.
The Romans had a much friendlier view of lettuce. Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, said that infusions of lettuce had saved his life.
So certainly all of the cultures saw lettuce as some kind of soporific and cooling herb. The usefulness of the plant seems to split along philosophical lines. The Egyptians associated it with potency, but the Greeks added the tragic twist that sure you might be potent, but go on and get mauled by a wild boar, then tell us how potent you are. The ancient idea of lactuca cooling the appetites is one that I hope to explore more here.