Ask the Pharmacist: Grilling lettuce might make you sleepy

Suzy Cohen
File: Romaine lettuce

This summer, and especially around the summer holidays, lots of people are barbecuing. You probably think the word “grill” and “lettuce” shouldn’t be in the same sentence, should they? Why not? 

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It wouldn’t be the first time a vegetable was grilled. Just think of zucchini, peppers and corn on the cob.

Wild lettuce, known as lactusa virosa is a species from the lettuce family that is most interesting. It grows all over the world. It contains “lactucarium” a milky substance that can cause sedation and psychoactive effects like hallucinations. It should not be grilled.

Wild lettuce has bright green leaves which secrete the lactucarium. This compound resembles opium, a mild analgesic. In the early 1900s, extracts of this species was used for whooping cough.

But you’re probably wondering about iceberg lettuce, or Romaine, aren’t you?  To answer your first question (because I can read your mind); no, these foods are not psychoactive.

Food Science and Biotechnology has an article entitled, “Sleep-inducing effect of lettuce (lactuca sativa) varieties on pentobarbital-induced sleep.”

The scientists investigated the sleep-inducing effect of Romaine lettuce on mice who were put to sleep by pentobarbital, an anesthetic and anti-seizure drug. Because Romaine lettuce has a higher content of a compound called “lactucin,” it made people sleep longer than they would have normally. They tested the seed extract and the leaves themselves, seeds were stronger.

FYI, lactucin is part of the bigger compound lactucarium, which I mentioned earlier, so Romaine does actually have some sedating characteristics. 

Iceberg didn’t make anyone snooze although it’s fabulous for lettuce wraps! 

Of the two lettuces, Romaine is what I recommend. Not because it causes drowsiness, trust me it’s not even remotely close to an Ambien! But because Romaine lettuce is full of antioxidants and chlorophyll which clean your internal biochemical gears. It also contains a lot of vitamin K and natural folate (methylation), plus what better way to consume delicious fiber?! 

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It’s also very high in potassium which normalizes blood pressure.

So, this summer, try grilling lettuce along with your burgers and dogs. Here's a recipe for you:



  • 4 small Romaine hearts, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 TBLS favorite salad dressing
  • 2 tea chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 cup fresh Parmesan or Goat Cheese


Cut an inch off of the top part of the Romaine leaves off, leaving the bottom core intact. This allows you to grill the lettuce without it falling apart.

Brush the lettuce with olive oil and place on your heated grill or skillet.

Turn frequently to brown/char all sides. (They will slightly soften but they should not wilt or turn black). You want them crisp tender, and slightly charred. Once done, you can drizzle your favorite dressing on top.

I like creamy Caesar dressing personally. Then sprinkle fresh parsley on top, and salt/pepper. Optionally, sprinkle Parmesan or fresh goat cheese.

Serve while warm.

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit