Poppies are more than just the foundation for opium-related drugs, medicines, and scientific studies. There are many varieties that are beautiful decorations to our gardens, some with almost no morphine, and a few offer healthy derivatives for a better lifestyle.
Origins of Opium Poppies
Flowers are not new to the human race, especially opium poppies, which have been around for thousands of years. In fact, history traces mentions of opium poppies back to Persian and Egyptian relics and even cave drawings from ancient times. Our ancestors learned very early on that opium was good for many things, such as dealing with pain, problems sleeping, depression, and so on.
As far back as four thousand years ago, the Sumerians and Egyptians were cultivating opium poppy as a method of clearing the mind or dealing with pain. Like many ancient medicines, opium was not just a cure for one ailment; it was used to treat, prevent, and cure many different problems for men, women, and even children. Whether the plan was to deal with grief, such as at a funeral, or with pain, major (like surgery) or minor (headaches), opium poppies were the common prescription in some form.
Even the Romans utilized opium poppies, depicting them for use in problems sleeping especially, and opium or derivatives could be bought at the marketplaces freely. The Prophet Mohammed banned most substances that could be viewed as harmful today, including alcohol, but poppies were not mentioned in the ancient writings. To some, this indicates that poppies are acceptable for a variety of problems, and they should be used instead of other, more problematic prescriptions.
Appearance of Poppies
There are several different varieties of poppy that can be grown even if your plan is not to harvest for opium, but keep in mind that the opium poppy is illegal to grow in the United States. In the United Kingdom, you can grow the opium poppy but it is against the law to harvest the seed head to create opiates. The flower is a cute one, with different colors available depending on the category of poppy. Most are either white or a coral pink color, with four petals and different leaves, although a few are off-white, yellow, red, or purple.
Most poppies are tall annuals, growing up to four feet tall in some places with optimal growing conditions. Some types of poppies open at daylight and close at dusk, remaining closed on very cloudy days and during the night hours. In places like Mexico, poppies are considered pesky plants, spreading like wildfire.
Growing Conditions for Poppies
Poppies are a variety of flower that do not like the shade, growing best in full sunlight for at least the major portion of the day. It likes warm temperatures and tropical climates best, with most varieties flowering the biggest and brightest during the peak summer months of July and August. Opium poppies do not need any other poppy in order to reproduce, as all flowers are capable of reproduction within themselves. Bees pollinate the flowers, as is the case for many other varieties, but poppies possess both female and male organs.
Opium poppies like clay soils, those with some sand, or heavy loam soils best, but they do not like really dry soils. Be sure to water them whenever the soil starts to feel dry, or they will quickly droop and die. They can tolerate a lot of salt in the soil though, and they also grow well in acidic soils, making them a hardy choice.
Poppy Seed Oil
We have all heard that poppies are only good for making opiates or decorating our gardens, but they have other health benefits as well. Poppy seed oil has been used for centuries to provide energy boosts, since poppy seeds are very high in carbs and calcium. Poppy seed oil is high in several important acids as well, such as oleic acid and linoleic acid, which can help in the prevention of heart disease and breast cancer.
Keep in mind that poppy seed oil is good for the outside of your body as well, used frequently in skin creams to create smoother, moisturized skin. Many hair conditioners have ingredients that contain poppy seed oil, real or synthetic, as well. Similarly, a lot of soaps have poppy seed oil to add moisture to your body all over, and a wide variety of popular massage oils have poppy seed extracts as well.
Opium Concentrates in Poppies
The Persian White (also known as Indian White) variety of poppy has the highest opium concentration, since it has the largest bulb, but many varieties of papaver somnerifum have at least a small morphine concentration. The Tasmanian poppy has the next highest concentration, and Burmese poppies are in a close third. It depends mostly on the way that the poppy is grown, the part of the poppy (seed, leaf, or stem), and other factors.
California poppies have very low morphine/opium yield, one of the lowest yields among the varieties. The concentration depends somewhat on how many plants have been planted in the same soil, as too many plants can choke life from the growth and decrease the concentration. Many experts recommend thinning the crop on occasion to get rid of the smallest plants, preventing the choking and helping the plants stay strong and grow larger.
Other Uses of Poppies
Although many people focus on poppies—even opium poppies—they are used for things outside of drugs and prescription medicines. They are a very pretty addition to a flower garden, although they tend to take over the space if they are not closely monitored and pruned frequently. As before mentioned, they are used for a variety of foods, oils, soaps, conditioners, hair tonics, skin creams, massage oils, and salad dressings too.
Poppies are prized for being beautiful, and for their medicinal qualities, but the nutritional value of the seeds is also important. It is illegal to grow the opium poppy, and some other forms, partly because of the morphine concentration but also because they act like weeds as they grow. To find out whether it is legal in your area, contact your city council members to get a list of banned flowers and plants.