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Papaver somniferum

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.

Culinary use

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.


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