Lettuce, opium and chewing gum…..

The Roman emperor Tacitus, was known for his remarkably austere lifestyle: he ate sparingly, hardly drank and was not interested in the trappings of wealth; hardly the behaviour you would associate with being an emperor. However, it was a different story when it came to lettuce, he would binge on them claiming that the large quantities he consumed allowed him to get a good night’s sleep.

Wild lettuce was also widely used in the nineteenth century as an alternative to opium. Dried balls of lettuce latex were used as sleep inducers in medieval England, occasionally mixed with henbane and poppy for that extra high. A mild sedative known as lactucarium, prepared from wild lettuce extracts, was used in hospitals up through the Second World War.

There’s some truth to this, and it’s all due to the distinctive milky juice (Pliny the Elder called it “phlegm”) that can be seen oozing from the bottoms of cut lettuce stems. The scientific name for lettuce, Lactuca, is based on this lettuce juice, derived from the Latin lac, which means milk.Technically, it’s not a milk at all, but a latex, a water-based emulsion manufactured by such plants as the rubber tree, the dandelion, and the sapodilla tree, whose dried latex, chicle, was the basis of the first chewing gums.

Talking of which, did you know a mathematician once calculated that the energy Americans expend everyday when chewing bubble gum was enough to light a city of ten million people and also if you give a monkey some, he will chew it for a couple of minutes, then take it out and stick it to his hair.

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