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Prickly Lettuce

Lactuca serriola

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
For more information please download the BSBI Code of Conduct PDF document.


Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asteraceae (Daisy)
Also in this family:
Alpine Blue Sow-thistle, Alpine Cotula, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Saw-wort, Annual Ragweed, Annual Sunflower, Argentine Fleabane, Autumn Hawkbit, Autumn Oxeye, Beaked Hawksbeard, Beggarticks, Bilbao Fleabane, Black Knapweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blanketflower, Blue Fleabane, Blue Globe-thistle, Bristly Oxtongue, Broad-leaved Cudweed, Broad-leaved Ragwort, Brown Knapweed, Butterbur, Buttonweed, Cabbage Thistle, Canadian Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Carline Thistle, Chalk Knapweed, Chamois Ragwort, Changing Michaelmas Daisy, Chicory, Chinese Mugwort, Chinese Ragwort, Coltsfoot, Common Blue Sow-thistle, Common Cat's-ear, Common Cudweed, Common Daisy, Common Dandelion, Common Fleabane, Common Goldenrod, Common Groundsel, Common Michaelmas Daisy, Common Mugwort, Common Ragwort, Common Wormwood, Coneflower, Confused Michaelmas Daisy, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Cotton Thistle, Cottonweed, Creeping Thistle, Daisy Bush, Dwarf Cudweed, Dwarf Thistle, Early Goldenrod, Eastern Groundsel, Eastern Leopardsbane, Elecampane, English Hawkweed, Fen Ragwort, Feverfew, Field Fleawort, Field Wormwood, Fox and Cubs, French Tarragon, Gallant Soldier, Garden Lettuce, Giant Butterbur, Glabrous-headed Hawkweed, Glandular Globe-thistle, Glaucous Michaelmas Daisy, Globe Artichoke, Globe-thistle, Goat's Beard, Golden Ragwort, Golden Samphire, Goldilocks Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great Lettuce, Greater Burdock, Greater Knapweed, Grey-headed Hawkweed, Guernsey Fleabane, Hairless Blue Sow-thistle, Hairless Leptinella, Hairy Michaelmas Daisy, Harpur Crewe's Leopardsbane, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Heath Cudweed, Heath Groundsel, Hemp Agrimony, Highland Cudweed, Hoary Mugwort, Hoary Ragwort, Hybrid Knapweed, Intermediate Burdock, Irish Fleabane, Jersey Cudweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lance-leaved Hawkweed, Lavender-cotton, Leafless Hawksbeard, Least Lettuce, Leopardplant, Leopardsbane, Leptinella, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Hawkbit, Lesser Sunflower, London Bur-marigold, Magellan Ragwort, Marsh Cudweed, Marsh Hawksbeard, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Sow-thistle, Marsh Thistle, Meadow Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, Mexican Fleabane, Milk Thistle, Mountain Everlasting, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Musk Thistle, Narrow-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-leaved Hawkweed, Narrow-leaved Michaelmas Daisy, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, New England Hawkweed, New Zealand Holly, Nipplewort, Nodding Bur-marigold, Northern Hawksbeard, Norwegian Mugwort, Oxeye Daisy, Oxford Ragwort, Pearly Everlasting, Perennial Cornflower, Perennial Ragweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Perennial Sunflower, Pineapple Mayweed, Plantain-leaved Leopardsbane, Ploughman's Spikenard, Plymouth Thistle, Pontic Blue Sow-thistle, Pot Marigold, Prickly Sow-thistle, Purple Coltsfoot, Rayed Tansy, Red Star Thistle, Red-seeded Dandelion, Red-tipped Cudweed, Robin's Plantain, Roman Chamomile, Rough Cocklebur, Rough Hawkbit, Rough Hawksbeard, Russian Lettuce, Safflower, Salsify, Saw-wort, Scented Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Mayweed, Sea Wormwood, Seaside Daisy, Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shaggy Soldier, Shasta Daisy, Shetland Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shrub Ragwort, Sicilian Chamomile, Silver Ragwort, Slender Mugwort, Slender Thistle, Small Cudweed, Small Fleabane, Smooth Cat's-ear, Smooth Hawksbeard, Smooth Sow-thistle, Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Spear Thistle, Spotted Cat's-ear, Spotted Hawkweed, Sticky Groundsel, Stinking Chamomile, Stinking Hawksbeard, Tall Fleabane, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Tansy, Thin-leaved Sunflower, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Viper's Grass, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Winter Heliotrope, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Woolly Thistle, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Roadsides, sand dunes, towns, walls, wasteland.

Yellow, many petals
Dandelion-like. Small, yellow and loosely clustered with bracts sometimes tinged purple.
Small, pale brown, single seed with a pappus.
Greyish leaves. The upper leaves clasp the stem. Slightly spiny and with sharper prickles on the midribs below the leaves. The plant is sometimes known as the 'compass plant' because of the way the leaves twist around in the sun.
Smells earthy, like a strong-smelling garden lettuce.
Other Names:
China Lettuce, Chinese Lettuce, Compass Plant, English Thistle, Horse Thistle, Lettuce Opium, Milk Thistle, Wild Lettuce, Wild Opium.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Lactuca serriola, also known as prickly lettuce, is a wild annual plant in the lettuce genus, Lactuca. It is native to Europe and Asia, but it has also naturalized in many parts of North America, where it is considered an invasive weed. It can grow up to 2m tall, with a thick stem and leaves that are dark green and covered in stiff, prickly hairs. The flowers are small and yellow, and they grow in a large, open inflorescence at the top of the stem. The seeds are small and dark, and they are dispersed by the wind. It is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of soil types and can tolerate poor soils, droughts and poor lighting. Traditionally, the leaves and sap of the plant have been used for medicinal purposes, such as pain relief, and it is also used as a sedative and to relieve anxiety. However, it should be used with caution as it can also have toxic effects if consumed in large amounts.


Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola, is a common weed found throughout much of the world. It is a member of the daisy family, Asteraceae, and is closely related to cultivated lettuce, Lactuca sativa. Prickly Lettuce is also known by other common names, including Wild Lettuce, Compass Plant, and Milk Thistle.

Appearance and Habitat

Prickly Lettuce is an annual or biennial herb that can grow up to 2 meters tall. It has a single, tall stem that is usually covered in prickly hairs. The leaves are also covered in prickly hairs and are deeply lobed, resembling the leaves of cultivated lettuce. The plant produces yellow flowers that are arranged in loose clusters at the tips of the stems. The seeds of Prickly Lettuce are small and brown, and are dispersed by wind.

Prickly Lettuce is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but has been introduced to other parts of the world, including North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. It is a common weed in disturbed areas, such as roadsides, fields, and waste places.


Prickly Lettuce has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The milky sap that exudes from the plant when it is cut or broken contains lactucarium, a bitter substance that has sedative and analgesic properties. In traditional medicine, Prickly Lettuce has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including insomnia, anxiety, pain, and respiratory problems.

In addition to its medicinal properties, Prickly Lettuce is also edible. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, although they are somewhat bitter and may be tough. The young leaves are considered to be the most palatable. The seeds of Prickly Lettuce can also be eaten and are a good source of protein and fat.

Ecological Impacts

Prickly Lettuce is considered to be a noxious weed in many areas because it can be invasive and can compete with native plants for resources. In addition, the prickly hairs on the plant can make it difficult to manage or control.

Despite its potential negative impacts, Prickly Lettuce also provides important ecological benefits. It is a host plant for a variety of insects, including butterflies and moths, and provides habitat and food for a variety of other animals. The plant also has a deep taproot that can help to prevent erosion and improve soil structure.

Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola, is a common weed with a long history of use in traditional medicine and as a source of food. While it can be invasive and difficult to manage, it also provides important ecological benefits. As with any plant, it is important to consider both the potential benefits and drawbacks before deciding how to manage it in a particular environment.

More about Prickly Lettuce

Prickly Lettuce, also known as Wild Lettuce, has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. It was commonly used by Native Americans, who used it to treat pain, headaches, and coughs. In modern times, it is still used as a natural remedy for a range of conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.

The sedative properties of Prickly Lettuce are thought to be due to the presence of lactucarium, a milky substance that is found in the plant's leaves, stems, and flowers. Lactucarium is believed to act on the central nervous system, producing a calming effect and reducing pain and inflammation.

Prickly Lettuce is often used as an alternative to prescription painkillers, particularly for people who are looking for a natural remedy with fewer side effects. However, it is important to note that while Prickly Lettuce is generally considered safe, it can cause side effects in some people, including nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

In addition to its medicinal properties, Prickly Lettuce is also used as a food source. The young leaves can be eaten raw in salads, while older leaves can be cooked like spinach. The seeds of the plant can also be ground into a flour and used to make bread or added to soups and stews.

Prickly Lettuce is also known for its ornamental value. The tall, spiky stems and yellow flowers can add interest and texture to a garden, particularly in a naturalized setting. However, it is important to note that Prickly Lettuce can be invasive and may spread quickly if not managed properly.

Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola, is a versatile plant with a long history of use in traditional medicine, as a food source, and as an ornamental plant. While it can be invasive and difficult to control, it also provides important ecological benefits and is valued for its medicinal and culinary properties. As with any plant, it is important to consider both the benefits and drawbacks before deciding how to manage it in a particular environment.

Prickly Lettuce has also been studied for its potential use in the pharmaceutical industry. Researchers have identified a number of bioactive compounds in the plant, including lactucin, lactucopicrin, and 8-deoxylactucin, which have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, and antitumor properties. These compounds may have potential as new drugs for the treatment of cancer, chronic pain, and other diseases.

In addition to its medicinal and pharmaceutical properties, Prickly Lettuce has also been used in folk traditions for its spiritual and ceremonial value. The plant is believed to have protective properties and is used in rituals to ward off negative energy and evil spirits.

Prickly Lettuce is also important for pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies. The plant produces nectar-rich flowers that attract a variety of beneficial insects, including honeybees and native bees. This makes Prickly Lettuce an important component of a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

Overall, Prickly Lettuce is a versatile and useful plant with a rich history and a wide range of applications. Whether it is used for its medicinal properties, as a food source, or as an ornamental plant, it is an important part of our natural world and deserves our attention and respect. As we continue to learn more about its potential uses and benefits, we can work to manage and preserve this valuable plant for future generations.


Prickly Lettuce filmed at the following locations:
  • Bourton-on-the-water, Gloucestershire: 24th June 2023
  • Lower Moor Farm, Wiltshire: 28th June 2023
  • Horwich, Lancashire: 23rd July 2023

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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