Papaver somniferum is the latin, or "scientific" name refering to the opium poppy. Papaver somniferum can grows in warm weather, and requires well-drained soil, as it is prone to fungal infection. It has been cultivated as long as man's collective memory can be said to reach (at least 5,000 years) for its psychoactive sap. As a result, the seeds, which are not used in the production of opium, and contain no psychoactive substances, have been recycled to be used in cooking.

Papaver somniferum, in Latin the "sleep-bringing poppy".

There are hundreds of cultivars of poppy, some indistinguishable except by chemical content of the sap, and some wildly distinct from the rest, such as Papaver somniferum Laciniatum group. The Lacinatum group is sometimes given its own species name, Papaver Lacinatum. Though not properly its own species, it is distinct enough in appearance of both color and petal formation to merit one in the eyes of some enthusiasts.

Other than its notable ornamental purposes, the poppy seed is an important food item in many areas, and also a source of poppyseed oil.

Papaver somniferum is also known as the opium poppy.

It is the principal source of all natural opiates, including morphine and codeine, among over 30 others. The most common cultivar for the purposes of harvesting opiates contains mostly morphine.

The harvest of opiates begins with raw opium latex, which is harvested today in much the same manner as it has been for over two thousand years. The pods, and later the stems, are scored with a blade to allow the milky sap to bleed out and air-dry. The latex is peeled off, and the pods are often able to be re-cut for another round of harvesting. Later, the pods and stems will be pressed to extract as much of the latex as possible, and the best-producing pods will be used for replanting the following season.

Australia and Turkey are the two principal producers of opium latex for legitimate medical purposes. However, the primary producer of opium in the entire world is Afghanistan, where opium poppies are known as "koknar". There, an estimated 5-9 million kilograms of opium latex are produced each year (35-60 kg / hectare1 over 1500 sq. km2), all of which except for a vanishingly small percentage (less than .01% in 2010) were used for illicit purposes, including the production of heroin.

The ease of cultivation and production of opium has led some countries to ban the flower outright, while still allowing the seeds and oil to be used as food. Poppy seeds contain only minute traces of opiates, and poppyseed oil contains even less3.




1. Sethi, K. L., Sapra, R. L., Gupta, R., Dhindsa, K. S. and Sangwan, N. K. (1990), Performance of poppy cultivars in relation to seed, oil and latex yields under different environments. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 52: 309–313. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.2740520304

2. UNODC Survey, http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/drugs/afghan-opium-survey.html

3. Erowid.org, see: http://www.erowid.org/plants/poppy/poppy_law.shtml

An entry in FloraQuest 2011

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