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Papaver somniferum - Opium Poppy




"Opium poppy is an introduced species in North America that originates from southeastern Europe and western Asia. It it a widely grown garden and food plant that has naturalized across the US and Canada (BC, MB, NB, NF, NS, ON, QC, SK) (USDA 2010). In BC, 'wild' plants are reported from several locations, including Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. This is a distinctive annual herb from a taproot with solitary papery white, pink or or purple flowers and nodding flower buds. Basal leaves are lacking or fall off early in the season. Capsules are hairless and round. The tiny seeds spread easily in the garden and escape is common. This species has been described by Randall (2007) in the Global Compendium of Weeds as an "agricultural weed, casual alien, cultivation escape, environmental weed, garden thug, naturalised, noxious weed"."
"The seeds of the opium poppy are harvested from dried seed pods for use as an ingredient in many foods, and they are pressed to yield poppyseed oil. In the UBC herbarium, there is a single specimen record from "west of Sechelt", where it was collected along Route 101 by Gerald Straley in 1977."[E-flora]


"Papaver somniferum is a ANNUAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 0.2 m (0ft 8in)."
"It is hardy to zone (UK) 7 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, self.The plant is self-fertile."[PFAF]
"Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil."[PFAF]
General: "Annual herb from a taproot; stems erect, simple or branching, grey-green, 30-100 cm tall." [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: "Basal leaves lacking or few and soon deciduous; stem leaves oblanceolate, unstalked, the bases heart-shaped and clasping, shallowly lobed, toothed and wavy-margined, 5-30 cm long." [IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: "Inflorescence of solitary, terminal, erect flowers; buds nodding; the flowers stalks appressed-hairy; petals 4, white to purple or rose, often with a pale to dark basal spot, 2-6 cm long."[IFBC-E-flora]
Fruits: "Capsules, nearly round, smooth, 2.5-5 cm long." [IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat / Range
"Mesic to dry roadsides and waste places in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; rare in SW and SC BC; introduced from Eurasia." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Not known in a truly wild situation. Europe to Asia, though the original habitat is obscure. A rare casual in Britain."[PFAF]
Origin Status: Exotic [E-flora]


"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[7, 10, 19, 65]. 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[10, 46, 65]." [PFAF]

Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

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[244]. [PFAF]

Folk Medicine
"The British Pharmacopeia Tincture of Opium, popularly known as Laudanum, is made with 3 OZ. of Opium and equal parts of distilled water and alcohol, and for immediate effects is usually preferable to solid Opium. Equal parts of Laudanum and Soap Liniment make an excellent anodyne, much used externally." [WWW-03] [MWP]

For most of its history opium was not smoked but rather the black sticky resin was dissolved into wine and drunk, or else rolled into a pellet and swallowed. Opium, as a cure for pain, as euphorint and rumored aphrodisiac, was known in Eurasia for several thousands of years. [FOG mckenna]


Seed is reported to contain:

Moisture, 4.3-5.2%;

Protein, 22.3-24.4%;

Oil via ether extract 46.5-49.1%;

Nitrogen-free extract, 11.7-14.3%;

Crude fibre, 4.8-5.8%;

Ash, 5.6-6.0%;

Calcium, 1.03-1.45%;

Phosphorous, 0.79-0.89%;

Iron, 8.5-11.1 mg/100 g;

Thiamine, 740-1,181 mg/100 g;

Riboflavin, 765-1,203 mg/100 g;

Nicotinic acid, 800-1,280 mg/100 g;

"Minor minerals in the seeds including iodine, 6 mg/kg; - manganese, 29 mg/kg; - copper, 22.9 mg/kg; - magnesium, 15.6 g/kg; - sodium, 0.3 g/kg; - potassium, 5.25 g/kg; - zinc, 130 mg/kg"
"The organic compounds : lecithin, 2.80%; - oxalic acid, 1.62%; - pentosans, 3.0-3.6%; - traces of narcotine and an amorphous alkaloid; - carotene is absent."
"The enzymes : diastase, - emulsin, - lipase, - nuclease. [269]"
"Poppy seed oil cakes were estimated to have 88 feed units per 100 kg, 27.5% digestible crude protein and 25.6% digestible true protein. [269]. As already stated previously, there are no dangerous alkaloids, like morphine and codeine in the seeds [SM]" [MWP-2]

Tryptophan - Seed - 2,550-2,735ppm [Downum PPTP]

Nutritional Information
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Seed (Fresh weight)


"The capsules and stems of Papaver somniferum contain opiate alkaloids essen- tial in medicine. They are classified into two groups, phenanthrene types (mor- phine, codeine, thebaine) and benzylisoquinoline types [papaverine and noscapine(narcotine)]. These two types of alkaloids show sharply specific phar- macological properties." [TheAlkaloidsChem&PharmaV.39]

"There is some evidence that the production of the minor alkaloids, such as narcotine and papaverine, is more dependent upon locality. Narcotine has been reported as absent from opium produced in France and to be particularly abundant (up to 7-11%) in that from Japan (139). It is present in opium from most of the usual sources derived from Papaver somniferum var. album, and it is absent from the latex of P. somniferum var. nigrum. It is possible that in this instance the locality difference is due to difference of strain. The presence or absence of papaverine, on the other hand, is said to be determined by locality in samples all derived from var. album. It has been found in samples from Asia Minor, China, America, France, Persia, and Egypt, and not in those from Bengal, Patna, and Benares. It is, of course, possible, though not in any way proved, that local strains may have been developed in these diverse sites." [TheAlkaloidsChem&PhysV.01]


Abortifacient (f; SKJ); [HMH Duke]
Analgesic (1; APA; CRC; KAP; PHR);[HMH Duke]
Anaphrodisiac (1; FEL); [HMH Duke]
Antibacterial (1; BIB); [HMH Duke]
Antidiarrheal (f; PNC); [HMH Duke]
Antidote, atropine (f; FEL); [HMH Duke]
Antidote, physostigmine (f; FEL); [HMH Duke]
Antidote, strychnine (f; FEL); [HMH Duke]

Antiinflammatory (f; DEP); [HMH Duke]
Antipyretic (1; FEL; KAB); [HMH Duke]
Antispasmodic (1; APA; DEM; DEP; FEL; PNC); [HMH Duke]
Antitussive (1; APA; PHR; PNC); [HMH Duke]
Aphrodisiac (f; CRC; KAB); [HMH Duke]
Astringent (1; CRC; DAA; KAB); [HMH Duke]
Calmative (1; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Carminative (f; BIB; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Cerebrostimulant (1; KAP; FEL); [HMH Duke]
Decongestant (1; CRC);[HMH Duke]

Deliriant (f; KAB); [HMH Duke]
Demulcent (f; BIB; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Diaphoretic (f; CRC; FEL; PNC); [HMH Duke]
Diuretic (f; KAB); [HMH Duke]
Emollient (f; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Euphoric (1; APA); [HMH Duke]
Expectorant (f; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Hemostat (f; CRC);[HMH Duke]
Hypotensive (f; BIB; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Hypnotic (1; APA); [HMH Duke]

Intoxicant (1; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Lipogenic (f; KAB);[HMH Duke]
Myorelaxant (1; APA; FEL); [HMH Duke]
Narcotic (1; APA; CRC; SUW); [HMH Duke]
Nervine (f; BIB; CRC); [HMH Duke]
Sedative (1; APA; CRC; KAP); [HMH Duke]
Spinostimulant (f; FEL); [HMH Duke]
Stimulant (1; APA); [HMH Duke]
Tonic (f; BIB; CRC);[HMH Duke]
Tranquilizer (f; DEM); [HMH Duke]
Vasodilator (1; CRC).[HMH Duke]


"The method of collecting opium from the plant has remained the same for at least the past 2,500 years. A few days after the petals fall, the greenish seed pods are delicately incised in several places. The milky juice exuded from the shallow cuts is left to dry on the surface of the pods until the next day, when in the form of a brown, gummy substance-crude opium-it is scraped off and collected. The process is repeated until the pod gives no more juice, which usually happens after the second or third milking." [HighTimesEncyl]

"(Papaver somniferum) The medical properties of opium were discovered a very long time ago, for the poppy was already domesticated for its seeds during Neolithic times in Switzerland; it was also grown in Spain at a time when metal was first coming into use (Clark. 1952). Opium was almost certainly the active principle of the drug nepenthes, described by Homer as the “potent destroyer of grief ”. Homer attributed its discovery to the ancient Egytians; the Ebers papyrus actually has a chapter devoted to a “remedy to prevent the excessive crying of children”, by giving them what can only be opium, a remedy still in use, both in Egypt and Europe, in the 20th century. Children are still soothed with the aid of the drug, quite often fatally (Lewin).... Syrup of poppies was being recommended in the 10th century as a sedative for catarrh and coughs, and is still commonly used (Fluckiger & Hanbury). Opium was extensively used in the Fen country of England for malaria or ague, as it was called. Doctors said that it had more effect than quinine (V G Hatfield. 1994). It was taken as “poppy tea”. Every garden had a patch of these poppies, the seeds of which were boiled, and the resulting liquor given to drink for fever, and general aches and pains. Even teething children were given the tea, or a few poppy seeds to suck, tied in a piece of linen (Porter. 1974), or a dummy dipped in poppy seeds (V G Hatfield. 1994)." [DPL Watts]

"Seed - sow spring or autumn in situ[200]." [PFAF]
"Propagated from seed. Seeds germinate best at 15C and are less sensitive to temperature than most poppy species. Seed sown in shallow furrows, at rate of 4-6 kg/ha. In some areas poppy seed, mixed with sand, is often broadcast over tilled fields in early autumn at rate of about 0.5 kg/ha, as in Asia Minor. Then fields are weeded in the spring when the poppy has grown to about 15 cm tall, and plants are thinned then to stand about 60 cm apart. They flower in April and May and the capsules are ripe in June to July. Optimum yields are obtained when plants are spaced 10 cm between plants and rows 32 cm apart, thus allowing space for mechanical cultivation. Yields of seeds are slightly higher when plants are spaced 30 cm apart than when 40 cm apart. Thinning and spacing do not affect the oil content of the seeds. Fertile soil is essential for good growth and land should be fertilised accordingly." [WWW-16] [MWP-1]

"Prefers a rich well-drained sandy loam in a sunny position[4, 200]. Requires a moist soil[14] but does not do well on wet clays[115]. Prefers a sandy loam or a chalky soil[115]. Plants often self-sow in British gardens. The opium poppy is a very ornamental plant that is often cultivated in the flower garden[1]. There are many named varieties, some of which have been developed for their edible uses[183]." [PFAF]
"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." [PFAF]
"In cool temperate zones the plant does not produce sufficient of the narcotic principles to make their extraction feasible[4] and cultivation of the plant is perfectly legal in Britain[K]." [PFAF]
"Plants have ripened their seeds as far north as latitude 69°n in Norway[141]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer or rabbits[233]."[PFAF]

Papaver Sp.

"Of the many species of poppy, Papaver somniferum and Papaver setigerum are the only two containing morphine in significant quantities. Various researchers have reported morphine and like alkaloids in Papaver rhoeus, Eschscholtzia mexicana, Argemone mexicana, and even the hops plant, Humulus lupulus, but the findings are doubtful." [Pendell PPPHC]



The information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes. Self diagnosis and treatment, without due diligence, could be harmful and is not encouraged. Some information & images may be copyright. Every effort has been made to present the information in the spirit with which it was originally presented. Some data has been omitted for legal and/or practical consideration. There is some data not covered in the scope of this project, including, but not limited to, cell culture and large-dose animal studies. I have made comparisons and links between related species which may later prove erroneous. I have not verified the information for accuracy and I accept no responsibility for its authenticity. Many of the plants presented are poisonous, have poisonous properties, or could cause illness through misuse, allergic reaction, drug interactions and environmental contaminants. Please use caution and mindfulness when harvesting plants for any use.

Page last modified on 24-10-2016