Poppies have a wide reputation as a symbol for death and sleep, and for good reason. Though there are myriad types of poppies, all poppies contain some level of opiate alkaloids, which can induce sleep, or in such cases as the opium poppy, produce euphoria. Poppies have a rich history of association with eternal sleep since Greek and Roman times, and have been used in many world cuisines for centuries.
There are a multitude of poppy varieties in the world, varying in colour, size and smell. The colours of the flower petals can range from white, pink, yellow, orange, red and blue. Most poppies have dark (usually black) centres. Perhaps the best known poppy type is the opium poppy, which has been cultivated for centuries for medicinal and recreational uses. The personal cultivation of opium poppy is illegal in the United States and many other countries. There are many types of legal poppy common for gardening purposes. These include the corn poppy, Iceland poppy, Mexican poppy, California poppy and Oriental poppy. These types range in appearance and environmental conditions needed for cultivation.
Poppy is species of flower, known botanically as paver. At the centre of all poppy flowers is a collection of dark-coloured stamens, the petals, averaging four to six, form around the stamen in a cupped shape. The colour of poppy pollen ranges from dark blue to grey. The opium poppy is known as paver somniferum, while the field poppy common to Europe and Asia (think of the "Wizard of Oz" movie scene) is known as paver rhoeus, due to its high concentration of the alkaloid rhoeadine, which causes drowsiness.
Poppies have an overwhelming association with death, a connection which undoubtedly derives from the opiate "sleeping" properties of poppy, as well as the blood red colour of common field poppies. Red field poppies grow throughout both Italy and Greece, and in many Greek and Roman myths, poppies were offered to the dead as gifts symbolising "eternal sleep."
Another common association with the poppy is of wartime remembrance. Due the commonality of the red field poppy (paver rhoeas) in Europe, they have become associated with fallen soldiers of both World Wars, and now with soldiers of foreign wars in general. In 1915, Canadian soldier John McCrae wrote "In Flanders Field" (see References) a poem in which the death of a fellow soldier is remembered through the description of his "final resting place" among the blowing poppy flowers. Today, red poppies are worn (usually on lapels) as symbols of remembrance for fallen soldiers.
Poppy seed have myriad culinary uses, due primarily to their rich nutty flavour. Both the seed and oil are common in many Asian cuisines, as well in European and American baking, particularly in such favourites as poppy seed cakes, muffins, breads and on pretzels. In Eastern Europe, it is often boiled with mil and used as a pastry filling. Crushed poppy past is the main ingredient of Indian Kurma,
All parts of the plant do contain opiate alkaloids, therefore the consumption, even in baked goods, of any form of poppy seed will result in a false positive drug test for up to 48 hours.
Opium is a designated as a stimulant narcotic (an opiate) and has been used for centuries as a painkiller for otherwise "incurable" diseases such as typhus, typhoid and smallpox. The chemical components of opium include morphine, thebaine, codeine and papaverine. Opium is an addictive drug, it is illegal for recreational use in the United States, and its use may bring about dependency.
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