Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Corn Poppy and the Opium Poppy

Flora and Fauna
Papaver rhoeas and Papaver somniferum

Papaver is Celtic meaning porridge (papa),  somniferum means infusing sleep and refers to the soporofic substances of the plant.  

Internationally:  Most species of poppies are attractive and are cultivated as ornamental plants. A few species have other uses, principally as sources of drugs and foods. The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is so widely used, for both drugs and food, that its worldwide production is monitored by international agencies. It yields opium and opiates, poppy seeds for use in cooking and baking, and poppyseed oil culinary and other uses, and is also cultivated as an ornamental plant 

History:  Poppies were cultivated for their beauty, magic and use as a medicinal herb through centuries. The Egyptians considered the poppy an important plant in funerals where it was a symbol of eternal life. Dry poppy flowers were found by excavations of burial sites, more than 3000 years old. In the antique Rome the poppy sap  was used against witchcraft. It was also considered the best means of easing the pain of love. The ancient Greeks considered the poppy a symbol of fertility and gave poppy garlands to the goddess of fertility, Demeter.The Romans devoted the herb to the corn goddess Ceres, who taught humans to sow and reap. Poppy seeds were put into food to secure the love between two people, and the seeds were being sprinkled upon bread before baking, which is still a tradition. Poppy seeds were by the Greeks considered strengthening. Therefore they mixed  roast seeds with wine and honey and gave it to the olympic athletes.


The Corn Poppy 
The Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is a wild growing papaver species, which usually has got red tepals around a black center. This poppy is the largest and most common of three wild papaver species in Denmark, and it has got its name because it was earlier common as a weed in the corn. Its natural habitat is most of Europe, North Africa, Caucasus, Iran and the Indian subcontinent. In Denmark the Corn Poppy is common in fallow fields and in unfertilized cornfields. The red-flowered corn poppy is of wartime remembrance. It's a common weed in Europe and is found in many locations, including Flanders, the setting of the famous poem "In Flanders Fields" by the Canadian surgeon and soldier John Mc Crae.(WWI)

The Corn poppy is one of the most beautiful among weeds. The red flowers arrive in the high season in summer, and each plant can produce about 20.000 seeds. Some seeds sprouts at once. The poppy is a strange and unstable plant. It does not thrive in well cultivated and cleansed soil, and it is rarely seen in the cornfields, but if the soil is allowed to fallow without treatment from field tools, then the poppies sprouts up in numbers. At midsummer time whole landscapes can be bright red with those fine silken flowers. The milk from the plant is bitter and poisonous. The close relative Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy,  is cultivated in many places for extraction of opium from the sap of the seed capsules. The opium poppy is about 30 -90 cm tall, it has large white or pale purple or variegated flowers during summer. There are sorts with double flowers. 
1300s: the best for medicine has white flowers (opium poppy). When you scratch the unripe seed capsule the sap flows out and this is being gathered, others use the sap from crushed capsules. The seed oil gives a good taste. The sap from wild poppy mixed with wine stops diarrhea, gives sleep and relieves cough. Crushed leaves with wine helps a swollen throat and "the evil fire "= a skin disease. The capsules cooked with honey to drink gives sleep and drives out cough. Mixed with rose oil and rubbed on the head it removes all pain. Mixed with saffron put into ear against ear ache.

1400s: The sap on the temples against insomnia.  Opium poppy crushed with wine and henbane seed for a patch upon the head against dizziness.

1500s: Seeds from opium poppy and henbane mixed with egg white and woman's milk acts soporifically. Seeds and leaves crushed with rose oil as a patch upon a sick liver.Crushed leaves baked in a cake and eaten in dysentery ( = blódsótt).  Beer or wine decoction from opium poppy seeds, valerian and fennel drink against back pain. Crushed leaves with vinegar as a compress on shingles.

1546: The physician Henrik Smid: Opium poppy seeds to take against dizziness. They act calming and soporifical,  "you may give it to children in porridge or milk, when they are restless and won't sleep."  All poppies are good and useful for wild and restless people, who cannot sleep, put as a patch upon the forehead and the temples. A decoction mixed with almond oil dipped in an aching and buzzing ear. Seeds crushed with honey against constipation.

1600s: Opium poppy seeds  "according to the pharmacist's artwork" against rage and madness. Seed capsules as a soporifically footbath; added dill makes it better. Syrup from wild poppy was not unknown by laymen and was much used by physicians against pleurisy. Poppy oil rubbed on temples and wrists against insomnia. Decoction from capsule shells used for a compress against gout and in an aching tooth. A wise man in Jutland treated viper's bite with poppy sap and brown tar. Milk decoction from dry capsules on inflamed eye lids.

1900s: It was the opinion in Himmerland, Jutland,  that the seeds provoked abortion. A decoction of the plant acts skin rejuvenating. Blond and medium blonde hair washed with a strong decoction will be beautiful red, a darker hair will get a reddish glow.

Seeds from the opium poppy and petals from the corn poppy were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772.


The many seeds from the capsules keep their germination ability for a long time  In favorable conditions a field can unexpectedly be blood red with poppy flowers. In some places the corn is covered in poppies.
The deep red poppies were in a place explained by that they came from the blood of fallen soldiers in a battle with the Swedes in 1659. But it was also said that the flowers came from the blood of Andalusian stallions, killed by the Spaniards before they went back to Spain. In a certain field at Clausholm castle in the Randers district some unusually large and dark red poppies grow, a Spanish soldier was executed here for insubordination. A Catholic legend says that poppies grew from the blood of Christ at Golgatha, and the flower became a symbol of the healing, sin-forgiving life herb.

People who live at the moon have bats as cows and poppies as corn. In H.C. Andersen's fairy tale "The Wild Swans" bewitched toads change into poppies.On the island Tåsinge (south of Funen) parents warned their children not to pluck the flowers from "the herbs of the devil". If you smell a poppy three times you'll get cramps. The poppy capsules were often placed on gravestones as a symbol of death being the sister of sleep.


Weather Omen:
The poppies start blooming when the first thunder-storms of the year arrive.

Source: V.J. Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik bd. 2, Rosenkilde og Bagger, 1979; Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, Aschehoug, 2001.

photo Djursland og Lønneborg fjord:  grethe bachmann


Marilyn said...

Very interesting post and such wonderful photos. The history of the poppy and it's uses is very interesting.

Thyra said...

Hello Marilyn! Thanks for visiting. When I see that bright red poppy I long for summer! This red flower is so beautiful in a bouquet with white daisies and blue corn flowers, but the petals fall off! Maybe it's best to leave them in the field where they like to be!
Have a nice Sunday!

Michael and Hanne said...

A wonderfully informative post! I have learned so much!
No photos of white or other colors of poppy? Maybe later....

Thyra said...

Thank you, Michael and Hanne! No, I have only got the red poppy. I have only seen the white or other colours in gardens. I'll remember if I meet them next year!
Grethe ´)