This article was last updated by on

5+ Popular Wild Lettuce Look Alikes

Are you foraging for wild lettuce plants for their medicinal usage, be wary of picking wild lettuce look alikes that can be poisonous.

Wild lettuce look alikes include Dandelion, Prickly Lettuce, Snakeroot, Common Milkweed, Poison Hemlock, Sow Thistle, and more. They are much similar to wild lettuce plants in appearance, with or without medicinal uses.

Read on to identify wild lettuce look alikes and whether they are edible or toxic.

Wild lettuce can grow up to 6 feet (2 meters) in height with green and deeply lobed or toothed leaves.

The leaves may have a slightly hairy or spiky texture, and when the stem or leaves are broken, they exude a milky white sap.

Therefore, consider these factors when differentiating wild lettuce from its look-alikes.

1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

As much as people are banking on wild lettuce vs dandelion vibes, dandelions are perennial flowering plants that resemble white lettuce from a distance but may exude stark differences when inspected closely.

They grow to about 16-24 inches tall but remain short compared to wild lettuce.

In fact, dandelion has a long history of medicinal (treating constipation and digestion) and culinary use worldwide, like the wild lettuce, which offers soothing and pain-relieving properties.

Remember, dandelion leaves look similar to wild lettuce but are pretty different.

The leaves of dandelions form a rosette with deeply toothed edges, bright green. In contrast, wild lettuce leaves are deeply lobed with elongated lobes or divisions.

Dandelion leaves do not have hairy undersides, typical of wild lettuce.

Similarly, the flowers may look similar, but dandelion blooms are bright yellow and puffed, while white lettuce flowers are small and do not appear puffed.

You can be relaxed; dandelions are the non-toxic look alikes of Wild Lettuce. The leaves or stem do not produce a toxic milky sap when cut or broken like wild lettuce.

2. Prickly Lettuce

Prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) is another edible wild plant often confused for wild lettuce because of its starkly similar appearances.

Native to Europe and Asia, prickly lettuce has been naturalized in most parts of the world and is often used for medicinal purposes.

Both lettuce types belong to the same family and boast deeply lobed or pinnate leaves that ooze white sap when twisted or broken.

However, prickly lettuces have spiny projections along the margins, giving them a prickly appearance.

  • The leaves of prickly lettuce may have a rougher texture due to the presence of small bristles or hairs. You would not find this in wild lettuce, which boasts a smoother texture.
  • The prickly leaves are typically bluish-green, while the flowers are pale yellow, which appears in clusters.
  • Like wild lettuce, it can be consumed in moderation and offers traditional benefits such as sedative and pain-relieving properties.

3. Sow Thistle

Sow Thistle (Sonchus Oleraceus) is an edible look alike of wild lettuce, which also comes from Asia and Europe.

Like wild lettuce, it has a long history of medicinal use and has been used for culinary purposes. So, do not worry!

Sow thistle foliage
It is generally considered safe for consumption and is often used as a leafy green vegetable.

However, gardeners often confuse it for wild lettuce because of its long stalk, similar oblong leaf shape, and milky sap.

  • One stark difference is the leaf texture. No hairs are present, so you can quickly tell them apart from wild lettuce with smooth to slightly hairy surfaces.
  • The leaves are typically less deeply lobed compared to wild lettuce.
  • Another big difference is in flowers, where sow thistle blooms resemble dandelions, which grow one flower per stalk.
  • Sow thistle tends to have a more upright growth habit, with taller stems reaching several feet.

4. Tall Blue Lettuce

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca Biennis) is a biennial lettuce native to many parts of North America, including Alaska, Canada, and other US states.

It reaches up to 6 feet in height and grows robust stems with elongated, oblong leaves similar to wild lettuce.

The main reason beginners confuse the tall blue lettuce is its size, leaf appearance, and clusters of flowers.

However, Lactuca biennis produces clusters of small yellow to bluish flowers arranged in panicles, while wild lettuce flowers are more inconspicuous.

  • Native Americans harvested the plant roots to make medicine for treating pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, and heart trouble.
  • Although edible, it is not commonly harvested as a vegetable or salad green like other lettuce varieties.
  • The plant contains lactucarium, a milky latex substance similar to wild lettuce, which oozes out when you break the leaf.

5. Poison Hemlock

Poison hemlock (Conium Maculatum) may resemble wild lettuce in appearance, but they are nothing similar.

Probably the most dangerous weed plant, Poison Hemlock is considered a toxic plant and should be avoided for any consumption.

Did you know the Greek philosopher Socrates drank a poison made from hemlock plants juice?

While all parts of the plant are poisonous, the seeds/roots are considered the most dangerous, where touching them with bare hands can cause dermatitis.

  • Poison hemlock and wild lettuce display deeply lobed leaves, typically when young. Poison Hemlock leaves get finely divided as they mature and have a feathery or lacy appearance.
  • Another stark difference between poison hemlock and wild lettuce is the flower; poison hemlock boasts small white flowers, while the latter has yellowish flowers.

6. Common Milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a poisonous weed plant that resembles wild lettuce as they grow in the wild habitat.

Remember, common milkweed is poisonous and can cause upset stomach, weakness, and even seizures or heart problems when ingested.

Common milkweed
Did you know the indigenous tribes in North America used common milkweed stems for making ropes, cords, and textiles?

What makes it similar to wild lettuce is its staggering size that grows to a height of 3-6 feet and dark green, oval, or lanceolate-shaped leaves measuring around 4-8 inches.

  • It produces white sap from leaves and stems, adding to the confusion.
  • Remember, common milkweed produces a round cluster of fragrant flowers, typically pink to purple or sometimes white.
  • Keep an eye out for flowers when inspecting for wild lettuce.

7. Snakeroot

Snakeroot or Polygala senega is a weed plant distributed around southern Canada and the central/eastern US.

Among the many look alikes of wild lettuce, snakeroot is a poisonous kind but with many medicinal uses.

Did you know Senega has been traditionally used as a cure for snakebites and treatment for earache, toothache, and sore throat?

However, extra precautions should be taken when harvesting and using the snakeroots.

Wash and dry the plant roots in the sun or with low heat, making them lose two-thirds of their weight. It may take 160 roots to yield one kg of dried material, especially for commercial medicinal use.

One way to differentiate snakeroot from wild lettuce is its leaves, which are about 2-4 inches long and lance-shaped.

It grows to a height of 8-24 inches and boasts white, pale, or pink flowers, starkly different from wild lettuce.

Editor’s Note

It is easy to confuse many different edible or toxic weed-like plants for wild lettuce, requiring identifying the plants first.

A few more examples of wild lettuce look alikes include Stinging Needle (Urtica Dioica), Indian Hemp (Apocynum Cannabinum), Great Lettuce (Lactuca virosa), Opium Lettuce (Lactuca virosa), and Hairy Lettuce (Lactuca hirsuta).

Consult an expert, reference guide, or this article before using or consuming any wild plant for wild lettuce.