Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

poppy the flower of various plants of the genus Papaver, of which P. somniferum ssp somniferum is notorious as a source of opium. The same species provides edible leaves and pleasantly flavoured seeds which, when mature, are not narcotic and are pressed to make a salad or cooking oil. The young leaves are also edible. The common poppy, P. rhoeas, is also grown for oil.

The opium poppy is related to a wild poppy, P. somniferum ssp setigerum, a native of the E. Mediterranean. The Greeks of classical times grew it both for its seed and for opium, which they used medicinally as a painkiller and sleeping draught. Cultivation spread eastwards to Arabia, Persia, and India, eventually reaching China in the mid-16th century. Opium is a latex exuded from small cuts made in the unripe seed capsules. It is collected when it hardens. It may then be refined to make morphine and heroin. A small amount is used legally to make these drugs for medicinal use.