THE OPIUM POPPY- PERHAPS IT SHOULDN'T BE IN YOUR GARDEN: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF THE OPIUM POPPY
The opium poppy is native to and cultivated in the Mediterranean region through to
Iran; although it is now cultivated in many tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate countries. It is cultivated for the opium in, Japan and Australia for medicinal purposes and elsewhere for the illegal drugs trade. It is grown in poor countries and a problem for the developed world is that poor farmers see the cultivation of this poppy as a better way of making money (albeit illegally) than by growing legal crops.
It is a member of the Papaveraceae family and related to the Greater Celandine, the Californian poppy, the Yellow Horned Poppy and the common red poppy which grows among crops.
The poppy is used for the extraction of morphine and other alkaloids which have strong pain-relieving properties. It is also used for a multitude of other purposes in traditional medicine where the poppy grows.
For example it is used as an aphrodisiac, astringent, for its anti-bactericidal properties, to get rid of flatulence, as a soothing, softening agent, an expectorant, as well as for its hypnotic, narcotic, nervine and sedative properties. It has also been used as a tonic. Poppies have been used in folk remedies for asthma, bladder, bruises, cancer, catarrh, colds, colic, conjunctivitis (pink eye), coughs, diarrhoea, dysentery, irregular periods, enteritis, fever, headaches, high blood pressure, hypochondria, hysteria, inflammation, insomnia, leucorrhea, malaria, madness, melancholy, nausea, neuralgia, rheumatism, snakebites, spasm, spermatorrhea, sprains, stomachache, swellings, toothache, tumors, ulcers, and warts along with many other ailments. It has also been used in traditional medicine systems for cancers of the skin, stomach, tongue, uterus, carcinoma of the breast, polyps of the ear, nose, and vagina; also for scleroses of the liver, spleen, and uterus; and tumors of the abdomen, bladder, eyes, liver, spleen, and uvula. The plant, boiled in oil, is said to help treat liver tumours, while the tincture of the plant is said to help cancerous ulcers.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the seeds are used as an aphrodisiac, for diarrhoea, and as a tonic; the fruit is used for coughs, its cooling properties, as a stimulant and intoxicant, but is said to cool lust or libido if used too heavily. In Unani (Greek) medicine in the Indian subcontinent, the fruit is used for anaemia, chest pains, dysentery, fever, but is believed to be harmful to the brain because of its hypnotic and narcotic properties.
Nearly all parts of the plant contain the white milky juice or latex so prized in medicine, it is the unripe fruit capsules from which morphine and other alkaloids are taken.
The seeds are used extensively in baking and cooking in general and they produce nutritious edible oil which is said to be as good for health as olive oil.
It is grown in gardens around the world, although this might not be legal as it is generally illegal to cultivate them and even growing them for ornamental purposes is against the law in most countries.
Opium has been the cause of wars, for example with the Opium Wars in the 19th century between the British and Chinese, and has been used by writers of the 19th century, notably by Thomas de Quincey “Confessions of an Opium-Eater,” the Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge whose “Kubla Khan” is said to have been influenced by an opium-induced dream. Sherlock Holmes the fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also experimented with laudanum (not ladanum) which is an opium poppy derivative. Of course, who could forget the scene in the film "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy and her companions fell asleep in the poppy field. This is the "poppy of sleep" Papaver somniferum, which has so influenced literature.
It is a very beautiful flower, but perhaps not the best one to have in the garden if you want to stay on the right side of the law.