A native of Greece and western Asia, the opium poppy is a member of the poppy family, Papaverceae, that also includes bleeding heart and corydalis. It is the oldest poppy in cultivation and its domestication dates back to ancient Neolithic times, c5000 BC. The ancient Minoans, 2000-1450 BC, made opium from the sap of its seed capsules and opium was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a pain killer and sleeping aid. Today, opium poppy is grown for three reasons: poppy seeds used in cooking, opium used in medicines, and flowers in the garden. Poppies grown for culinary and ornamental uses have been bred for a low concentration of opium while cultivars for medicinal uses have been bred for a high concentration. Photo Credit Magnus Manske Wikimedia Commons
Description: Growing up to 3′ tall, the plant has blue-gray lobed leaves that clasp the unbranched blue-green stem. Both stems and leaves are glaucous and have a light distribution of coarse hairs. In spring, nodding buds open to 4″ wide flowers with 4 petaled flowers 4″ wide sometimes with dark markings on the base. The species is scarlet but breeding has created white, pink, and purple cultivars. The flowers may be one of two forms: carnation-flowered with fringed petals, or peony-flowered that look like double peonies. Plants readily self-seed.
Poisonous Properties: All parts of the plant contain opium but the unripe fruiting capsules are the main source of commercial opium. The green capsules exude a milky substance called latex when the outside of the capsule is scored or cut. The latex is allowed to dry and then collected and used for medicine or the illegal drug trade. Opium is a depressant and symptoms of its intake include initial restlessness, excessive salivation, loss of appetite, impaired reflexes, slower, shallower breathing, lower heart rate, stupor, coma, death. Although death is not a common result, addiction can be a serious problem that can lead to a slow and painful recovery.
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