Family : Papaveraceae
Other names : Opium poppy
Poppy is any of several ornamental
flowering plants of the poppy family (Papaveraceae), especially
species of the Papaver genus. Red-flowered and double and semidouble
strains are garden ornamentals. About 50 other species of Papaver
are grown for their attractive papery flowers or interestingly
cut foliage. Opium, from which morphine, heroin, codeine, and papaverine
are derived, comes from the milky fluid in the unripe seed capsule
of the opium poppy. Ancient Greeks have long been aware of the medicinal
and narcotic properties of the poppy. Poppy seed capsules have been
found in Switzerland in the remains of prehistoric lake dwellings.
Through Arab traders and the spread of Islam to the East, the opium
poppy was introduced to Persia, South East Asia and India. Papaver
soniferum means sleep inducing poppy.
The plant, Papaver somniferum,
is an herbaceous annual native to Greece and the Orient. These plants
have blue-green stems, lobed or dissected leaves, milky sap and
nodding buds on solitary stalks. An annual plant, it bears 12.7-centimetre-
(5-inch-) wide blue-purple or white flowers on plants 1 to 5 m (about
3 to 16 feet) tall. They have bisexual, regular, cup-shaped, four-
to six-petaled flowers with one superior pistil (female structure)
and numerous stamens surrounding the ovary. The two sepals drop
off as the petals unfold. The fruit is a capsule, the leaves are
usually deeply cut or divided into leaflets, and the sap is coloured.
The ovary develops into a short, many-seeded capsule that opens
in dry weather, permitting the small seed to escape when it is shaken
by the wind. The seeds are small (about 1 mm in length), kidney-shaped,
and grayish blue to dark blue in colour.
The opium poppy also is grown for
its non narcotic ripe seeds, which are used for seasoning, oil,
and birdseed. Tiny dried seed of the opium poppy is used as food,
food flavouring, and the source of poppy-seed oil. Poppy seeds have
no narcotic properties, because the fluid contained in the bud that
becomes opium is present only before the seeds are fully formed.
They have a faint nut like aroma and a mild, nutty taste especially
popular in breads and other baked goods. Poppy seeds are more common
in India, where they are ground and used as a thickening agent in
curries and sauces. They are also sprinkled over cooked noodles,
or sweetened with honey and made into a dessert dip or sauce. Dry-fried
seeds are added to salads and salad dressings.
Medicinal and other use
Poppy seed contains from 44 to 50
percent fixed oil, the principal components of which are linoleic
and oleic acids. The poppy seed oil is used by artists as a drying
oil. The seeds are used in painkillers, cough mixtures and syrups
and as an expectorant. An infusion of the seeds can provide relief
to toothache and ear ache.