Oriental poppy (botanical name Papaver orientale) is possibly the most outstanding among all types of herbs used for culinary purpose. Oriental poppy is an enduring perennial having an elongated stem that can often be found growing up to a height of 1.5 m or 5 feet. This plant has a beautiful appearance and can be grown without much difficulty. Indigenous to the mountainous regions of Turkey, the Oriental poppy is grown as an ornamental garden plant.
The plant bears oblong-shaped vividly colored green leaves that are coarse and covered with bristles. These leaves grow up to a length of 8 cm or 3 inches and appear opposite to each other on the elongated stem. The leaves are divided into lobes and have indented margins. The leaves of Oriental poppy become yellow and wither away after the flowering season.
The stems of the Oriental poppy are tall, firm and covered with bristle-like hairs and they usually have several furrowed branches, while the plant’s taproot is long and breakable easily. This herb bears unique large buds that are also covered by bristly hairs. The buds give rise to striking flowers whose color may vary – white, orange, scarlet, coral or pink. The flowers have a bowl-shape and bloom for a brief period during the later part of spring. Each flower is about 15 cm or 6 inches across and has six smooth textured, windswept petals, which have a black mark at the base. The stamens are vibrant and appear in the middle of the flowers.
At the end of the flowering season, the plant produces attractive seed heads that have a grayish-green hue and are shaped in the form of a vase. The seed pods enclose several thousand minute, deep brown, seeds that are safe for human consumption and whose shape has resemblance to the human kidney. These seeds have a pleasant nut-like, oily and somewhat spicy flavour.
Oriental poppy plant possesses diaphoretic properties - in other words, this herb can cause sweating. As most of us are aware, sweating is a natural mechanism of our body to cool and refresh itself. Sweating occurs as a result of the nervous system - it causes the body fluid to come out of the skin pores and forms a layer on the surface of the skin. This liquid evaporates when it comes in contact with the atmosphere, thereby cooling the body. Perspiration may also be related to physiological or medical causes. Medical practitioners may use sudorific or diaphoretic substances to encourage perspiration in patients when it may be required.
Poppy seeds are also used for culinary purpose and the best way to utilize them is to either steam or bake them and subsequently crush them before you use them in your cooking. When the seeds are processed in this manner, it helps to draw out their delectable nutty flavour as well as the crispy quality. You may wrap the steamed or baked poppy seeds in a kitchen towel and subsequently pound them using a wooden mallet or rolling pin. People who use poppy seeds often may possibly also wish to think of purchasing a hand-mill that is particularly meant for pulverizing these seeds.
Intersperse the pounded poppy seeds liberally on top of bread, bagels, cookies and rolls. You may use the poppy seeds independently or along with raisins and other preferred ingredients in the form of a filling for sweet pastries like poppy seed apple strudel as well as hamantaschen, the scrumptious treat having a triangular shape and served always all through Purim - a Jewish holiday. Poppy seeds are a must if you are preparing lemon poppy seed muffins or a poppy seed cake, especially when you do not want a tea or coffee accompaniment which is very sweet.
Crushed poppy seeds are also included in vegetable dishes using turnip and potatoes, stews, casseroles, noodles and pasta to add essence to these food items. In addition, they are also used to enhance the flavour of butter, sour cream, cream cheese, dips, and salad dressings.
People in India and Iran add poppy seedlings to soups and other cuisines. In addition, they also consume the poppy seedlings in the form of greens.
Oriental poppy also has craft uses and it is used in fresh flower arrangements. You can prolong the flowers’ life by cutting the compact buds during the early morning hours and burn the cut end of the flower stems with a candle or matchstick prior to positioning it in water. On the other hand, you may also immerse the flower stems in boiling water for some minutes, while being careful to shield the flowers from the steam.
The attractive seed heads of Oriental poppy may also be used in dried flower arrangements.
Habitat and cultivation
Oriental poppy plants grow well in light, warm soil that drains out fast and is not very acidic. It is advisable that you do not add too much fertilizer to the soil when cultivating poppy. This plant prospers best when grown in complete sunlight, but also possesses the aptitude to grow in light shade. Oriental poppy needs some additional watering when the growing season becomes dry. The plants will be destroyed if the soil is water-logged, particularly during the winter months.
It is easy to propagate Oriental poppy from its seed, which needs to be sown directly outdoors during the beginning of spring immediately when the ground becomes feasible for cultivating the plant. Spread out the poppy seeds on the surface of the earth and ensure that you water them properly till the seedlings emerge. Usually, poppy seeds take roughly 10 to 15 days to germinate. The seeds prefer a damp and cool weather once they have been sown. Nevertheless, the plants prefer a hot and arid weather when the roots have become established.
Poppy seeds need to be directly sown in the place of their growth, because the seedlings usually do not like being disturbed and also do not grow well when transplanted. When you are selecting a place to grow Oriental poppy, you should keep in mind that these plants wither away very fast after the flowering season and, hence, you should plant them amidst the other flowering plants or perennial herbs, which would be helpful in concealing the gaps left by the withered poppy plants. New plants usually start growing during the fall and they keep growing throughout the winter.
You may also propagate Oriental poppy from their root cuttings. The best time to take the cuttings is when the plants have died down. Uproot the plant and sever its roots into several pieces each measuring anything between 5 cm and 8 cm (about two to three inches) in length. Position these root pieces horizontally or right side up in sandy soil at intervals of about 45 cm to 60 cm (18 inches to 24 inches) from one another.
Besides splitting the poppy once roughly in every five years as well as stalking the most soaring varieties, you need not require paying much attention to Oriental poppies. Ideally, you should divide the plants either during the end of summer or beginning of fall - the time when the plants start growing again. When you are growing the plants through the division method, it may take about two years for the plants to start flowering again.
It is important to mulch or provide some covering to the new plants throughout their winter. Instead of applying the mulch on the top of the plants, cover them from all around.
Although Oriental poppy clumps may often turn out to be somewhat large, usually this plant is not all-encompassing.
Oriental poppy plants are vulnerable to mildew, especially when grown in wet conditions. In addition, these plants are susceptible to capsid bug and black bean aphid infestations.
The oil extracted from poppy seeds contains elevated amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, particularly linoleic acid, which is of great importance nutritionally.
Side effects and cautions
While there is no report regarding any adverse effect of using poppy plants, it has been found that several species belonging to this genus are poisonous for mammals.
Collection and harvesting
Ideally, Oriental poppy plants should be harvested just when the color of the fruits starts turning grayish-brown. Harvesting the plants at this stage yields the best quality seeds.
Break off the seed heads or seed pods at the top of the dried out stems and put them into a paper handbag. Keep the bag open in an airy room with a view to allow the seeds to dry out. Once the seeds have dried completely, shut the paper bag and shake it forcefully. Subsequently, open up the bag again and put its contents through a sieve placed above a bowl to separate the tiny seeds and the chaff. Finally, gather the seeds and store them in a sealed container.