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Papaver somniferum - L.

Common Name Opium Poppy
Family Papaveraceae
USDA hardiness Coming soon
Known Hazards This plant contains a number of very toxic compounds, many of which are extracted and used as pain killers etc in medicine. They are also used to make various highly addictive narcotic drugs[7, 10, 19, 65]. However, in the cooler climate of Britain these compounds are not formed in sufficient quantity to make their extraction worthwhile. There are no toxins in the seeds[10, 46, 65].
Habitats Not known in a truly wild situation.
Range Europe to Asia, though the original habitat is obscure. A rare casual in Britain.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (4 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full sun
Papaver somniferum Opium Poppy

Papaver somniferum Opium Poppy


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Papaver somniferum is a ANNUAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 0.2 m (0ft 8in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from July to August. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees. The plant is self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

 Cultivated Beds;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves  Oil  Seed
Edible Uses: Oil

Seed - raw or cooked[2, 14, 15]. Much used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, fruit salads etc[183], it imparts a very nice nutty flavour[K]. The crushed and sweetened seeds are used as a filling in crepes, strudels, pastries etc[183]. Highly nutritious, the seed contains about 22.7% protein, 48% fat, 9.8% carbohydrate, 7.1% ash[179]. It is also a good source of lecithin[269]. The seeds are rather small, but there are large numbers of them contained in capsules 3cm or more in diameter and so they are easy to harvest and utilize[K]. The seeds are perfectly safe to eat, containing very little if any of the narcotic principles[10, 65, 238]. However, although the seeds contain no narcotic alkaloids, analysis of the urine following their ingestion may produce similar results to the analysis of the urine of morphine or heroin addicts[269]. Edible young leaves - raw or cooked[183]. They must be used before the flower buds have formed[179]. In some countries they are eaten at the seedling stage[269]. One report says that the leaves do not contain any narcotic principles[179]. Some caution is advised, see notes at top of the page. A high quality edible drying oil is obtained from the seed. It has an almond flavour[238] and makes a good substitute for olive oil[21, 46, 57, 89, 183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Seed (Fresh weight)
  • 533 Calories per 100g
  • Water : 6.8%
  • Protein: 18g; Fat: 44.7g; Carbohydrate: 23.7g; Fibre: 6.3g; Ash: 6.8g;
  • Minerals - Calcium: 1448mg; Phosphorus: 848mg; Iron: 9.4mg; Magnesium: 2.3mg; Sodium: 21mg; Potassium: 700mg; Zinc: 0mg;
  • Vitamins - A: 0mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.95mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0.17mg; Niacin: 0.98mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg;
  • Reference: [ 269]
  • Notes:

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Anodyne  Antispasmodic  Antitussive  Astringent  Diaphoretic  Dysentery  Emmenagogue  Expectorant  
Homeopathy  Hypnotic  Narcotic  Sedative

The opium poppy contains a wide range of alkaloids and has been a very valuable medicine, especially useful in bringing relief from pain. Its use (especially of the extracted alkaloids opium and morphine which it contains) can become addictive, however, and so it should be treated with extreme caution and only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[244]. The dried juice (latex) from the unripe green seed vessels is a rich source of the active alkaloids, including morphine[232, 240]. It is extracted by making shallow incisions in the capsules as soon as the petals have fallen[4]. Care must be taken that the incisions do not penetrate to the interior of the seed capsules[4]. The latex exudes from the capsules and dries in contact with the air - it is then scraped off[4]. This latex is anodyne, antitussive, astringent, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative[4, 7, 13, 176, 192, 218]. As well as its pain-relieving properties, the latex has also been used as an antispasmodic and expectorant in treating certain kinds of coughs, whilst its astringent properties make it useful in the treatment of dysentery etc[4]. A homeopathic remedy is made from the dried latex[232]. This is used in the treatment of a variety of complaints, including constipation, fevers and insomnia[232].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses


The seed yields 44 - 50% of an edible drying oil[61]. Very good for lighting, it burns for longer than most oils[115]. The oil is also used in paints, soap making etc[46, 57].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Prefers a rich well-drained sandy loam in a sunny position[4, 200]. Requires a moist soil[14] but does not do well on wet clays[115]. Prefers a sandy loam or a chalky soil[115]. Plants often self-sow in British gardens. The opium poppy is a very ornamental plant that is often cultivated in the flower garden[1]. There are many named varieties, some of which have been developed for their edible uses[183]. The plant is widely grown, often illegally, in warm temperate and tropical climates for the substances contained in its sap. These are often used medicinally as pain killers, especially in the treatment of terminally ill patients suffering extreme pain, they are also used for their narcotic effects by some people. These substances are highly addictive and lead to a shortening of the life span if used with any frequency. In cool temperate zones the plant does not produce sufficient of the narcotic principles to make their extraction feasible[4] and cultivation of the plant is perfectly legal in Britain[K]. Plants have ripened their seeds as far north as latitude 69°n in Norway[141]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer or rabbits[233].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - sow spring or autumn in situ[200].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment

Papaver somniferum

Administrator .

Jul 24 2010 12:00AM

Response to question Jul 24 2010 12:00AM about root ediblity: I can find no record at all of the roots being edible, but cant seem to find anything about their being poisonous either. I think there is a belief within the drug culture the roots contain narcotics and are apparently ingested, presumably after some kind of preparation (this is based on observation of former "druggie" neighbours being very careful to collect the root). This suggests they should be treated with caution, but does not dicount the possibility they may be harmless & have no narcotic/toxic effect at all.



Botanical References


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Readers comment

POPPY SMURF   Thu Aug 9 2007


somnifredum   Mon Aug 4 2008

No need to shout - We aint deaf. :-x Where does it say that?. Its an Opium Poppy...of course those alkaloids are produced, but not in the same quantity as say from Afghanistan, China, etc. Our climate (GB) aint the quite up to it.

   Mon Sep 29 2008

I'm afraid you are misinforming people, pfaf. 'There are no toxins in the seeds[10, 46, 65].' This is completely wrong, the seeds contain many alkaloids such as Morphine, traces of Codeine and Thebaine etc. Also there is a reported case of someone dying from Poppy Seed Tea (google it) but admittedly you'd have to do a lot.

Ber   Mon Jan 4 2010

Indeed someone did die from making poppy seed tea. It is possible to make an illegal and dangerous brew with dried P. somniferum pods, un sterilized P. somniferum seeds, and obviously raw opium. My question is this particular plant a perennial one?

   Jul 24 2010 12:00AM

I have been eating these in spring - the leaves and recently, the seeds too. All delicious and good but have now pulled up the dead plants and noticed thick roots, am wondering if these are any use for anything or whether they are to be avoided for experimentation. Info would be welcome.

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