Friday, September 14, 2012

Common Poppy/ Korn Valmue and other poppy-species.

Papaver rhoeas: Common poppy or Field-poppy (Danish: Korn-Valmue)
Papaver argemone, Prickly poppy, (Danish: Kølle-valmue)
Papaver dubium, Long-headed poppy (Danish: Gærde-valmue )

Papaver somniferum, Opium -poppy (Danish: Opium-valmue)

The name Papaver is Celtic and means porridge = papa. .

The Common poppy/ Korn-Valmue (Papaver rhoeas) is a wild growing papaver usually with scarlet petals around a black center. It is the biggest of the three wild growing papaver-species in Denmark. It was earlier known as a weed in the corn. It's blooming in June-July. The fruits are capsules with many black seeds. The plant is slightly toxic to grazing animals. The seeds are harmless, but like the rest of the plant they contain a tranquillizer which is used in herbal medicine. 
The Common poppy is connected to light-open land, and since it came with the corn cultivation it prefers the conditions, which are found in the cultivated fields. Modern methods cause that the poppy seeds seldom follow the corn seeds, and it is more and more rare to see the Common poppy in the corn, but it is often found in ruderats in full sun. Various seeds in many colours have been developed - and all grades of duality of the flowers. They are often being cultivated as summer-flowers in the gardens.


The Long-headed poppy or Blindeyes /Gærde-valmue. (Papaver dubium) is a very undemanding species which prefers sandy soils without lime. It is widespread throughout Europe and America. It has four red petals with a dark central base. The two sepals fall off when the flower opens. The fruit is a long, soft and hairless capsule, often 2-3 times as long as it is broad. The Long-headed poppy grows in cornfields,  harbours, sometimes in dumps, edges of roads. It is also a feral. The flowers are blooming in June-July. The Long-headed poppy is an endangered annual plant, connected to cultivated plants, especially rye. Like many other weeds it has been declining because of changes in the agriculture. Many weeds have disappeared from the fields as a result of modern technology, effective herbicides and inspections of the corn seeds. The Papaver dubium and its doppelganger, the Papaver rhoeas grow in the same habitats, but the species can be differed in the shape of the capsules. The Common poppy has a round capsule, the Long-headed poppy an oblong capsule.

The Prickly poppy / Kølle-valmue (Papaver argemone) grows to 50 cm height, but is often lower, and usually it is a little branched in the top. The stem and the flower-stalks are hairy and the sections of the leaves are without a sting. The capsule is almost club formed, which gave the plant its Danish name Kølle-valmue. The capsule is hairy with stiff, often few thick hairs. The seeds are small, kidney-shaped and contain plant oil. They are used for "birkes" , (poppy seeds in bread) Confusion:  the Long-headed poppy has shorter and smooth capsules and a clear sting on the section of the leaves. The Prickly poppy is annual - and it is often a winter-annual: it sprouts in the autumn and develops next spring. The flowers are without nectare, but they've got lots of pollen and they are pollinated by insects, which go for the pollen. The Latin name argemone is an ancient Greek plant name. The species grows in farmland, in railway terrain and other ruderats, in the edge of roads, in gravel pits and alike. The Prickly poppy/Kølle-valmue is common in most of Denmark.

Opium-poppy/ Opium-valmue (Papaver somniferum) is an annual herbal plant with a stiff upright growth. The solitary flowers sit in the top of the stem, they might be white or purple, but there are mixed forms too. The flowers are blooming in June-July. The flowers loses the two sepals when the flower arrives. Inside the flower are many stamens and one single stigma. The petals fall off after pollination and the fruit capsules swell while they gradually ripen. The capsule contains many seeds. The plants contains various opiates (morphine up till 20 %) which made it interesting in medicine of earlier times ( laudanum was an extract from the plant juice) - and later interesting for drug addicts of today.
Illegally the plant is cultivated for production of opium.

Cultural history
Papaver somniferum has been cultivated for such a long time that it is impossible to point out its original habitat, but since it has followed the other crops, which were cultivated from neolitic times it is assumed that its origin is the eastern Turkey, northern Iraque and northwest Iran. The plant still grows in eastern Turkey together with fx barley, fennel, flax, rye, persian wheat etc. The dried juice is used for making opium, from where the opiates can be produced. The seeds (birkes) are important food and contain vegetable oils, which are used in bread and salads all over the world. 


The basic form of the cultivated Opium poppy is unknown, but it is probably close to the under-species which is found in the western section of the Mediterranean, like the Papaver somniferum ssp. setigerum. The Opium-poppy is one of our oldest cultural plants, and it was mentioned for the first time upon a tablet with cuneiform writing from ab. 4.000 BC. Here were descriptions of how to produce medicine from the plant.The Sumerians described the  Opium-poppy as the Plant of Joy, and in ancient Greece the capsule of the plant was a symbol of Morpheus, God of Dreams, Thanatos, God of Death and Nyx, Goddess of Night. This collected symbol-power of dreams, sleep and death are repeated in several pictures from the Antiquity. In Egypt it is often possible to follow Opium mixtures back to the time around 1800 BC, and in the Roman Empire the Opium-poppy was regarded as a medicine of the rich. The early Christianity regarded sickness as a punishment from God, and from the 4th century it was forbidden to use opium as a pain-killer. Charlemagne renewed this prohibition in year 810, since the poppy-juice was considered to be the work of the Devil. But opium came back to Europe together with the Arab medicine.
Blood in the fields and poppies at the moon. 

The many seeeds from the capsules keep the germination capacity for a long time in favorable conditions. A field can unexpectedly become blood red from thousands of poppies. In some places those scarlet poppies are explained as being the blood from soldiers in a battle which happened in Denmark, especially in places where there have been battles with the Swedes in the 1600s. In a certain field at the castle Clausholm near Randers are unusually many large, scarlet poppies. Here lies a Spanish soldier who was executed for insubordination. A Catholic legend says that poppies grew up from the blood of Christ under Golgatha, and since then the flower was a symbol:" the healing, sin-forgiving life's herb."

Those people who live on the moon have bats as cows and poppies as corn, and from the moon came both the bat and the poppy down to the earth. At the island of Tåsinge south of Funen the children are warned by their parents against plucking the poppies, called the Devil's herb. If you smell three times to a poppy you'll get a cramp!! The poppies start blooming after the first thunder-rain. If the flowers close their heads the weather will be bad. The capsule of the poppy was often placed upon old gravestones as a symbol of death, who is the sister of Sleep. The sculpture of the angel called Night (by Thorvaldsen) has poppy capsules in her hair.

The poppies were cultivated for their beauty, magic and application as medical plants through centuries. The Egyptians considered the poppy as an important plant in funerals where it was the symbol of eternal life. Dried flowers from poppies were found in excavations of burials more than 3000 years old. In the ancient Rome the juice from the poppy was used against witchcraft. The Romans also considered the poppy juice as the best means to ease the pain of love. The ancient Greeks regarded the poppies as symbols of fertility and gave the goddes of fertility garlands of poppies. The Romans consecrated the herb to the corn goddess Ceres, who taught man how to sow and harvest. Poppy seeds were said to be good to use in food in order to secure the love between two people, and the seeds were sprinkled upon bread before baking, which tradition is still alive. The poppy seeds were by the Greeks meant to be strengthening - therefore they mixed the seeds with wine and honey and gave them to the Olympic athletes.

Folk Medicine:

medicine jar from 1573, Viborg Museum
Harpestræng ab. 1300:
The best poppy for medicine has white flowers - when you scratch the unripe capsule, juice comes out, this has to be gathered - others use the juice from crushed capsules. The seed oil gives a good taste, it works soporific as a decoction smeared in the face. The juice from the wild poppy, mixed with wine, stops diarrhea, gives sleep and relieves a cough. Crushed leaves with wine helps a closed throat and "the evil fire" = a skin disease. The capsules cooked with honey gives sleep, drives away coughs and is good against diarrhea and hoarseness; mixed with rose oil and rubbed upon the head all pains go away; it works soporific;  placed with saffron in the ear it relieves ear ache.  With saffron and woman's milk upon the feet against scabies, placed in anus it gives sleep. 

if you cannot sleep the juice is rubbed upon the temples. The Opium-poppy crushed and mixed with milk and oat meal in a gruel which has to be eaten in the morning three days in a row if you suffer from insomnia;  crushed with wine and seeds from henbane as a patch upon the head against dizziness. He/she who drinks the milk from the plant while fasting does not have "the lust of the flesh" for three days - also if the milk juice is mixed with the juice from the Euphrasia (Eyebright).   

Christiern Pedersen 1533: 
Seeds from the Opium-poppy and henbane mixed with egg-white and woman's milk work soporific, also if the head is rubbed with water decoction; the seeds were part of a patch for an internal abscess; seeds and leaves crushed with rose oil in a patch upon a sick liver; poppy crushed with millet and cooked in goat- or cow milk and mixed with buck's tallow to use in case of a diarrhea; the crushed leaves baked in a cake and eaten against blood sot = dysentery; beer or wine decoction from Opium-poppy seeds, valerian and fennel to drink against lower back pain; seeds crushed in woman's milk cooked with wax in a patch upon gout, which is also a part of a cover upon the artery of the arm in case of malaria; the leaves crushed with vinegar for a cover upon the shingles.  

old pharmacy, Viborg Museum
Henrik Smid 1546:
The Opium-poppy seeds to take against dizziness; they work soporific and calming - " it is allowed to give children these seeds in porridge or milk when they are restless and won't sleep." (!) The juice works the same but it was stronger and more expensive, and "if it is used internally it migh harm more than it helps" says Henrik Smid. The seeds and the juice to drink with wine stops a bad cough and a diarrhea. the poppies "are all good and useful for wild and restless people who cannot sleep, put them as a patch upon the forehead and the temples;" a tampon moistened with the juice and put into the nose works soporific; a water decoction from the capsules is healing as well, it might also be used as a cover and relieve "the wild fire" = skin disease.  The decoction or the juice (Opium) mixed with almond oil to drip into a painful and whizzing  ear. 

Simon Paulli 1648
 The Opium-poppy seeds were used according to "the Art of the Pharmacist" against rage and the folly of the head; emulsions used against hefty fever and to make the patient fall asleep. (Here comes a warning to the nurses who give the babies Opium in order to make them fall asleep  - " for the child might fall deeply asleep and never wake up again ... and this will make their good and dear parents very sad". The capsules could be used for a soporific foot bath, and if dill was added it worked even better. It was also said that Opium was not meant to be used by the common man, for "it is a medicament which cannot be used by someone who don't understand the art of medicine." For a long period a syrup - which was also known among laymen - was used by the doctors against pleurisy. 

Both the Opium-poppy and the other poppy-species were used by laymen, and they treated almost every disease, tumors, viper bites, inflammations, embryonics, toothache, rejuvenating etc. -  and if you washed your hair with a strong decoction, blonde hair would be pretty red and darker hair would get a reddish glow. 
Children were playing with the poppy flowers, they turned the flower and bent it backwards so it was like the body and head of a little doll. A petal could be placed across thumb- and forefinger upon a clenched fist and  then beaten with a little crack. 
The juice of the petals dye red.

Source: V. J. Brøndegaard, Dansk Etnobotanik, folk og flora, bd. 2, Rosenkilde og Bagger 1979; Anemette Olesen, Danske klosterurter, Aschehoug 2001; Danmarks fugle og natur, 2012, Felthåndbogen 2012. 

photo Djursland, Nordjylland og Viborg Museum 2009/2011/ 2012:grethe bachmann

photocopy Bertel Thorvaldsen, skulptur-medaillon: Natten.  




Out on the prairie said...

If you want to bring it in for a cut flower use a ighter on the end of the stem and they keep longer.

Thyra said...

Hello Steve, that's a good trick. I've got another one. You can cut the stems under water, that's also effective.

That scarlet colour of poppies is so fantastic. Many farmers have weeds in their corn now - willingly.

I hope you'll have a good week-end over there - with a fine weather and without any storms of any kind.... thanks for visiting!

Grethe ´)

MyMaracas said...

What a wealth of beauty and information you've shared here. I always love the myth and magic parts the best. Thanks!

Thyra said...

Thank you Maracas, the myth and the magic is the most interesting isn't it? And the fact that this has been shared by humans for thousands of years and first told from mouth to mouth before they began writing it down. It is all so Magical.

Have a nice Sunday!
Grethe ´)

stardust said...

Thank you, Grethe, for this painstaking post. Poppy is one of my favorite flowers. I love its texture like a translucent thin paper work.


Thyra said...

Hello Yoko, I understand what you say about the translucent paper work, I hadn't thought of it beore. I love the poppies too - I think the colour is breathtaking. It is so red that it is difficult to "absorb" in a photo.

And poppies and marguerites and cornflowers - what a beautiful bouquet.

Grethe ´)