10 Wild Lettuce Look-Alikes You Should Know About!

10 Wild Lettuce Look-Alikes You Should Know About
Wild edibles like wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) have been a crucial part of traditional medicine for centuries. Foraging for this plant is also fun, but not if you come across toxic wild lettuce look-alikes, such as milk thistle, snakeroot, stinging nettle, Indian hemp, common milkweed, or poison hemlock.

You need to know how to identify these wild lettuce copycats before you add them as a salad garnish.

What is Wild Lettuce?

Wild lettuce is a weed from the dandelion family (Asteraceae).

It’s also a species of the Lactuca genus, commonly referred to as lettuce. There are at least 50 of the Lactuca species; just another reason to know your wild lettuce look-alikes.

Wild lettuce is known both by its scientific name Lactuca virosa and its more common names:

  • Prickly lettuce
  • Bitter lettuce
  • Opium lettuce
  • Acrid lettuce
  • Poison lettuce
  • Tall lettuce

Wild lettuce can be a great source of healthcare, but it can be dangerous. If you’re using wild lettuce for medicinal purposes, ensure you know how to use it properly. If not, you might worsen any existing health problems.

Because there are plenty of wild lettuce poisonous look-alikes species, you need to know how to identify true wild lettuce.

How to Identify Wild Lettuce

Luckily, wild lettuce has a few clear characteristics that make it easy to spot from other medicinal plants.  

  • These prickly flowers often grow as a basal rosette or stalk, reaching up to 10 feet.
  • Check out the roots. A white or brown taproot is usually a clear sign that you’re looking at wild lettuce.
  • Lettuce leaves are usually serrated and sport a hairy fuzz on the underside of the leaf and stems.
  • The stem is full of alternating leaves that clasp at the stem. Break the stem to see a white milky sap leak out.
  • You won’t see flowers on every wild lettuce plant. But when they do, they resemble yellow, orange, or red dandelion flowers.
  • This edible plant also boasts seeds that are flat and oval-shaped.
Latuca virosa
Latuca virosa, Author: T. Voekler

Is All Wild Lettuce Edible?

As ancestors of garden lettuce, the young leaves of wild lettuce are edible. But, the wild lettuce plant is also bitter to eat whether you eat it raw or cooked.

Young leaves are less bitter, but the bitter taste becomes more intense as the leaves mature. You may not want to eat these wild lettuce leaves.

Conditions also have an effect. Dry conditions make the leaves more bitter. In contrast, wet conditions make this wild food more edible.

10 Common Wild Lettuce Look-alikes

Foragers can avoid poisoning when learning to separate wild lettuce poisonous look-alikes from the non-poisonous copycats. 

Ingesting the more toxic wild lettuce look-alikes can lead to various health problems.

5 Wild Lettuce Poisonous Look-alikes

Some of this wild food’s more toxic look-alikes include:

1. Snakeroot (Polygala senega)

When ingested, it can cause severe gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea and vomiting.

2. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

As the name suggests, it causes an uncomfortable but short-lived stinging sensation. However, they can cause more serious allergic reactions in severe cases.

3. Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum)

It can cause uncomfortable contact dermatitis.

4. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

The toxicity of common milkweed is severe and can start as a stomach upset and weakness, leading to seizures and heart problems.

5. Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)

This one is probably the most dangerous on the list, with the possibility of a fatal reaction. While all parts of the hemlock plant are poisonous, the seeds and roots are the most dangerous.

Wild lettuce poisonous look-alikes
Wild lettuce poisonous look-alikes

Before you eat a large portion, sample a small amount of wild lettuce. Doing so means you’re less likely to have chosen a wild lettuce poisonous look-alike and can avoid an allergic reaction.

5 Wild Lettuce Non-Poisonous Look-alikes

Friendlier look-alikes for wild lettuce include:

6. Milk thistle/prickly wild lettuce (Lactuca Serriola)

Another wild lettuce edible species. It can be identified by pale yellow flowers, sometimes tinged purple.

7. Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)

It comes from the same family and may deceive foragers. But you can easily identify dandelions as they don’t usually have hairy undersides and aren’t often serrated.

8. Milkweed (Asclepias)

Although not a wild lettuce plant, novice foragers could mistake various milkweed species for one with its broad, long leaves and milky sap in the stem.

Although milkweed, in general, isn’t considered poisonous, be careful as some species can contain cardiac poisons.

9. Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)

It is easily mistaken for wild lettuce as it has a long stalk, similar leaf shape, and milky sap when ruptured. But again, there are no hairs present, so you can quickly tell them apart.

10. Blue Wild Lettuce (Lactuca biennis)

Blue wild lettuce is not too difficult to discern as it’s mainly found in Alaska, Canada, and other US states.

The main reason beginner foragers and herbalists confuse the blue wild lettuce with Lactuca virosa is its long stems, big, lobed leaves, and clusters of flowers. However, these flowers are blueish.

Wild lettuce non-poisonous lookalikes
Wild lettuce non-poisonous look-alikes

Foraging Tips

Foraging for wild lettuce is a great way to get a good night’s sleep or as a pain reliever. It’s one of the easiest edible plants for herbalists to find.

Some helpful wild lettuce foraging tips include;

  • Always ensure you know how to identify wild lettuce. Do your research beforehand.
  • Look for less bitter, younger leaves that grow in wetter, shadier, and cooler conditions.
  • Harvest leaves by cutting at the base or simply plucking.
  • If the only wild lettuce leaves you can find are bitter (growing in full sun or dry, hot conditions, or mature), you should sauté or boil them for a moment to neutralize much of the bitter notes.


Getting into the great, wet outdoors in search of edible plants, herbs, fruits and fungi is one of Sarah’s favorite outdoor pursuits. She thinks there’s nothing better than combining her passion for hiking with the start of the foraging season. Sarah’s definitely not afraid of a little rain and dirt, it’s all part of the fun.

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