The poppy with it’s bright colours is the flower of August. A summertime plant. A flower of imagination and dreaminess that comes with the heat of the sun. A lazy day in a field with a gentle breeze and the heady scent of flowers. Despite this, the poppy is also dedicated to nocturnal deities and is a herb of the moon. An image comes to mind of a person, spending their days in amongst the wildflowers, cloud gazing and day dreaming until the day has turned to night and the moon shines down.
This plant is known mostly for morphine and heroin. I was in a car with some friends about ten years ago. When we went past a field of bright red poppies, the driver made us all wind up the windows. She was terrified that the scent would enter the car and we’d all fall asleep. I had never heard this before and it’s not at all going to happen. The red poppies which appear in the UK fields as weeds are not opium poppies.
The morphine poppy, Papaver somniferum, contains powerful medicine and has been used for a very long time as an analgesic and a narcotic, both in healing and recreationally. In 3000BC, Sumerians revered the poppy as a magical plant. Later, in ancient Egypt, doctors would advise their patients to ease their pain by eating poppy seeds.
The use of the opium poppy to create both morphine and heroin brings to mind the healing/harming spectrum. This medicine could ease your pain or bring you oblivion, it could aid you or it could kill you. It’s all in the dose. This is true of so many things in life and is a caution about excess.
Whilst we focus heavily on the narcotic properties of the plant, they are used in many ways. Simply as an ornamental plant, through to cooking. Poppy seeds are rich in oils, carbohydrates, calcium and protein. Poppy oil can be used as a cooking oil or as an ingredient in cakes and breads. Parts of the poppy can even be found in cosmetics and paints.
But perhaps the other most recognised use of the poppy, besides opium, is as a symbol of remembrance. After the first world way, the poppy was used to honour soldiers who had died during the war. But long before this, poppies were associated with death. In Greek and Roman mythology, poppies were used as offerings to the dead. They were used on tombstones to symbolise eternal sleep. Both their medicinal properties and their colour led to this usage. The sedative nature of the opium poppy and the blood red colour of common poppies made it a flower of sleep, peace and death.
None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.