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Friday, March 30, 2012


The yellow horned poppy is a member of the Papavaraceae or poppy family of plants and so is related to another British wildflower, the Greater Celandine as well as to the poppies. The 16th century herbalist John Gerard (1545-1612), describes it very well so I have reprinted his description here:
 “The yellow horned poppy hath whitish leaves very much cut or jagged, somewhat like the leaves of garden Poppie, but rougher and more hairie. The stalks be long, round, and brittle. The floures be large and yellow, consisting of foure leaves; which being past, there come long huskes or cods, crooked like an horn or cornet, wherein is conteined small black seede. The roote is great, thicke, scalie, and rough, continuing long.”
  So now you know why it is called the horned poppy- its seed pods are swollen and pointed, sometimes with horn-like pieces coming from them.
  The yellow horned poppy is a protected species under the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, so please don’t pick this flower. It is believed to have the largest seed pod of any of Britain’s native plants. It can live for up to five years and only flowers in its second year of growth during the months of June to September. It lives on single banks close to the sea and has also been called the Sea poppy. Its botanical synonym is Glaucium luteum.
  It is psychoactive and there is one report from the Royal Society of 1698 of a man who mistook this plant for that of sea holly or eryngoes. He baked the root in a pie and ate it hot, whereupon he became a victim of its hallucinatory and cathartic actions and mistook the content of his chamber pot for gold!
  The plant contains a yellow latex in its stems, and the seeds are oil producing. The oil has been used for lighting purposes as it burns cleanly and has also been used in soap-making. It contains the alkaloids glaucine, protopine, chelidonine, chelerythrine and cordine as well as fumaric and chelidonic acids.
  Glaucine is known to be a good ingredient for cough medicine and it has also been investigated for its ability to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells in vitro. Studies are being carried out around the world to investigate these actions and those of the other alkaloids present in the yellow horned poppy further. It has been found to have antiviral and antibacterial properties and to be effective against coughs and to help with bronchial problems.
  Writing in the 17th century, Nicholas Culpeper had this to say about the medicinal properties of the plant:-
Virtues. Like its species, it is under the Sun in Leo; and is aperitive and cleansing, opening obstructions of the spleen and liver, and of great use in curing the jaundice and scurvy: some reckon it cordial, and a good antidote against the plague. Some quantity of it is put into aqua mirabilis. Outwardly it is used for sore eyes, to dry up the rheum, and take away specks and films, as also against tetters and ringworms, and scurfy breakings-out. The root dried and powdered, is a galsamic and sub-astringent. It is given against bloody-fluxes, and in other hæmorrhages, half a drachm for a dose.”


  1. Your info. on the horn poppy is interesting but you fail to answer my question about when to know that the seeds are ready for harvest, since I only have one plant I want to be able to pick the seed pods at the right time and I want to know if it reseeds easily or needs special treatment.

  2. Its seeds ripen between August and September, and it would appear to self-seed, although if you want to have more of them exactly where YOU want them it might need a helping hand.


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