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Papaver somniferum is an annual plant growing to 0.6m by 0.2m. It has many sub-species or varieties and cultivars. Colors of the flower vary widely, as do other physical characteristics such as number and shape of petals, number of flowers and fruits, number of seeds, color of seeds, production of opium, etc.
Papaver somniferum Paeoniflorum Group (sometimes called Papaver paeoniflorum) is a sub-type of opium poppy whose flowers are highly double, and are grown in many colors. Papaver somniferum Laciniatum Group (sometimes called Papaver laciniatum) is a sub-type of opium poppy whose flowers are highly double and deeply lobed, to the point of looking like a ruffly pompon.
A few of the varieties, notably the Norman and Przemko varieties, have low morphine content (less than one percent), much higher concentrations of other alkaloids. Most varieties, however, including those most popular for ornamental use or seed production, have a higher morphine content, with the average content being 10%
The opium poppy is the principal source of most naturally occurring ?-opioid receptor agonist opioids. The opium poppy is, by definition, the root source of all opioids considered opiates. Opiates are extracted from opium and poppy straw. Opium (also called “raw opium”) is the latex harvested by making incisions on the green capsules (seed pods). Poppy straw is the dried mature plant except the seeds, harvested by mowing.
From opium and poppy straw, alkaloids are extracted such as morphine, thebaine, codeine and oripavine. Morphine is the predominant alkaloid found in the varieties of opium poppy plant cultivated in most producing countries
It is hardy to zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from July to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. The plant is self-fertile.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires moist soil.
Prefers a rich well-drained sandy loam in a sunny position. Requires a moist soil but does not do well on wet clays. Prefers a sandy loam or a chalky soil. Plants often self-sow in British gardens. The opium poppy is a very ornamental plant that is often cultivated in the flower garden. There are many named varieties, some of which have been developed for their edible uses. The plant is widely grown, often illegally, in warm temperate and tropical climates for the substances contained in its sap. These are often used medicinally as pain killers, especially in the treatment of terminally ill patients suffering extreme pain, they are also used for their narcotic effects by some people. These substances are highly addictive and lead to a shortening of the life span if used with any frequency. In cool temperate zones the plant does not produce sufficient of the narcotic principles to make their extraction feasible and cultivation of the plant is perfectly legal in Britain. Plants have ripened their seeds as far north as latitude 69°n in Norway. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer or rabbits.
Seed – sow spring or autumn in situ
Edible Parts: Leaves; Seed.
Edible Uses: Oil.
Seed – raw or cooked. Much used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, fruit salads etc, it imparts a very nice nutty flavour. The crushed and sweetened seeds are used as a filling in crepes, strudels, pastries etc. Highly nutritious, the seed contains about 22.7% protein, 48% fat, 9.8% carbohydrate, 7.1% ash. It is also a good source of lecithin. The seeds are rather small, but there are large numbers of them contained in capsules 3cm or more in diameter and so they are easy to harvest and utilize. The seeds are perfectly safe to eat, containing very little if any of the narcotic principles. However, although the seeds contain no narcotic alkaloids, analysis of the urine following their ingestion may produce similar results to the analysis of the urine of morphine or heroin addicts. Edible young leaves – raw or cooked. They must be used before the flower buds have formed. In some countries they are eaten at the seedling stage. One report says that the leaves do not contain any narcotic principles. Some caution is advised, see notes at top of the page. A high quality edible drying oil is obtained from the seed. It has an almond flavour and makes a good substitute for olive oil.
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Seed (Fresh weight)
*533 Calories per 100g
*Protein: 18g; Fat: 44.7g; Carbohydrate: 23.7g; Fibre: 6.3g; Ash: 6.8g;
*Minerals – Calcium: 1448mg; Phosphorus: 848mg; Iron: 9.4mg; Magnesium: 2.3mg; Sodium: 21mg; Potassium: 700mg; Zinc: 0mg;
*Vitamins – A: 0mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.95mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0.17mg; Niacin: 0.98mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg;
The opium poppy contains a wide range of alkaloids and has been a very valuable medicine, especially useful in bringing relief from pain. Its use (especially of the extracted alkaloids opium and morphine which it contains) can become addictive, however, and so it should be treated with extreme caution and only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The dried juice (latex) from the unripe green seed vessels is a rich source of the active alkaloids, including morphine, . It is extracted by making shallow incisions in the capsules as soon as the petals have fallen. Care must be taken that the incisions do not penetrate to the interior of the seed capsules. The latex exudes from the capsules and dries in contact with the air – it is then scraped off. This latex is anodyne, antitussive, astringent, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative. As well as its pain-relieving properties, the latex has also been used as an antispasmodic and expectorant in treating certain kinds of coughs, whilst its astringent properties make it useful in the treatment of dysentery etc. A homeopathic remedy is made from the dried latex. This is used in the treatment of a variety of complaints, including constipation, fevers and insomnia.
In folk medicine poppy heads were used in poultices to cure earache and toothache and a remedy for facial neuralgia was to lay the warmed leaves on the skin. Medieval doctors pounded the seeds with those of sea holly and mixed them with wine to make a lotion for washing the ears, eyes and nostrils of those suffering from insomnia. Another cure was to mingle the juice with milk and other agents and make them into sleeping pills. An infusion made from the powdered capsules of poppy was once applied externally to sprains and bruises and a poppy flower poultice applied to excessive redness of the skin. A flower compress reduced inflammation and helped watering eyes and also helped to banish dark circles around the eyes. Morphine, heroin, codeine and papaverine are all derived from the milk juice of the opium poppy. One poppy product, laudanum, an addictive tincture of opium, was a universal cure-all, widely prescribed by doctors in the 19th century-its abuse celebrated by De Quincey, Coleridge and Baudelaire, among others. It was frequently administered to relieve pain and calm excitement, and was also used in bad cases of diarrhea and dysentery. It has both hypnotic and sedative effects. Opium tincture and extract may be used internally to treat depression.
TCM: Contains the leakage of Lung qi: for chronic coughs; binds up the intestines: for chronic diarrhea and dysenteric disorders; Stabilizes the lower burner: for polyuria, spermatorrhea or vaginal discharge; Alleviates pain: for any kind of pain, especially that of the sinews, bones or epigastrium.
Pharmacological Effects: Morphine is a very strong analgesic; in fact, it is the standard by which all other analgesics are judged. It raises the pain threshold and also reduces the pain reflex. That is, even though the pain sensation is still perceived, it is no longer regarded as particularly uncomfortable. Codeine has approximately 1/4 the analgesic effect of morphine. Morphine and codeine are both hypnotics, but they induce only a light and restless sleep. Morphine is a strong and highly selective respiratory depressant. The dosage that acts in this manner is lower than an analgesic dosage. Codeine’s effect on respiration is much weaker than that of morphine. Also a strong cough suppressant. Morphine causes peripheral vasodilation and histamine release, which can lead to orthostatic hypotension. Morphine in very low doses causes constipation by increasing the resting tone and markedly decreasing propulsive contractions in the wall of the gut, while decreasing the secretion of digestive juices. The constipating effect of opium is only really noticeable at the start of the treatment. It soon diminishes and can if necessary be corrected with small doses of rhubarb or the like
The seed yields 44 – 50% of an edible drying oil. Very good for lighting, it burns for longer than most oils. The oil is also used in paints, soap making etc.
Ornamental cultivation :
A red opium poppy flower used for ornamental purposes .Once known as the “common garden poppy”, live plants and seeds of the opium poppy are widely sold by seed companies and nurseries in most of the western world, including the United States. Poppies are sought after by gardeners for the vivid coloration of the blooms, the hardiness and reliability of the poppy plants, the exotic chocolate-vegetal fragrance note of some cultivars, and the ease of growing the plants from purchased flats of seedlings or by direct sowing of the seed. Poppy seed pods are also sold for dried flower arrangements.
It has been suggested that, since “opium poppy and poppy straw” are listed in Schedule II of the United States’ Controlled Substances Act, a DEA license may be required to grow poppies in ornamental or display gardens. In fact the legal status of strictly ornamental poppy gardens is more nuanced, and destruction of ornamental poppy installations or prosecution of gardeners (except those caught extracting opium via capsule scarification or tea extraction) are virtually unheard of. During the early spring, opium poppies can be seen flowering in gardens throughout North America and Europe, and beautiful displays are found in many private planters, as well as in public botanical and museum gardens (e.g. United States Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, North Carolina Botanical Garden, residential garden, Seattle, WA, and residential garden, Hartford, CT).
Many countries grow the plants, and some rely heavily on the commercial production of the drug as a major source of income. As an additional source of profit, the seeds of the same plants are sold for use in foods, so that cultivation of the plant is a significant source of income. This international trade in seeds of Papaver somniferum was addressed by a UN resolution “to fight the international trade in illicit opium poppy seeds” on 28 July
Known Hazards: This plant contains a number of very toxic compounds, many of which are extracted and used as pain killers etc in medicine. They are also used to make various highly addictive narcotic drugs. However, in the cooler climate of Britain these compounds are not formed in sufficient quantity to make their extraction worthwhile. There are no toxins in the seeds.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider