The red poppy is a traditional symbol of America, when it remembers its war dead, perhaps because of the fact that it is the red poppy that grows abundantly in the fields near and surrounding the cemeteries of the Flanders region of France and Belgium, where more than thousands of dead soldiers, all Allied casualties of World War I lie buried. This annual herb red poppy grows up to two to two and a half feet in height, and sports a thick hairy stem with bristly pinnately divided leaves. The scarlet flowers of the red poppy, that bloom during late May until October are generally 2 inches across. Flowers have also blue-black stamens and four large petals, each with a purplish-black dot at the base. Its fruit is a capsule with several red black seeds. Most Americans may be familiar with the paper version of the red poppy worn on Memorial Day, perhaps because not many would have had the chance to spy the real red poppy growing in fields, because this plant has escaped cultivation and is primarily found in private gardens.
The red poppy is both an analgesic as well as a sedative. red poppy contains a nonpoisonous sedative alkaloid called rhoeadine, and quite unlike its cousin the opium poppy, the red poppy is not a source of narcotics. The sedative properties of the herb were put to good use by mothers of older times, when they fed infants food laced with red poppy, so that they would sleep undisturbed for long hours. The blossoms of the red poppy would also be used by mothers when they compounded them into a cough syrup for children. Nowadays, poppy seeds are one of the most popular ingredients used in baking.
The red poppy is mildly analgesic and also a sedative and these properties have been fully exploited, especially in European herbal medicine, especially for the needs of children and the elderly. Capable of reducing over-activity, and also of suppressing irritating coughs, the red poppy can also be used as a pain reliever. The herb is also used for insomnia, asthma, and nervous irritability.
The herb's capacity to induce sleep medicinally in infants has been utilized through the ages, and the flowers of the red poppy contain certain traces of alkaloids that would induce sedation, but scientific research on the subject has not been completed as yet. However, while herbalists use the blossoms and seeds of red poppy in a pediatric cough syrup, they use the flowers to color wine, teas, medicines, and ink.
Dissimilate to opium poppy (botanical name P. somniferum), which is a related species, red poppy does not cause addiction. Nevertheless, red poppy encloses alkaloids that are still being examined and, hence, this plant should strictly be used under the guidance of a professional and competent herbalist.
The flowers as well as petals of red poppy possess emollient, anodyne (a medication that alleviates pain), expectorant, emmenagogue (a medication that promotes menstrual discharge), and somewhat narcotic, hypnotic as well as sedative attributes. An infusion prepared with the red poppy flowers is used internally to treat bronchial disorders and coughs, nervous digestive problems, sleeplessness or insomnia and insignificant tender conditions. The seedpod of red poppy encloses a type of latex which is narcotic and somewhat sedative. This latex may be employed in little amounts and under the supervision of a qualified herbalist in the form of a drug to induce sleep.
The leaves and seeds of red poppy possess stimulating or tonic attributes and they are helpful in treating low fevers. The red poppy plant also possesses anti-cancer attributes, while the flowers may be employed to cure jaundice.
There are a number of culinary uses of the various parts of the red poppy herb.
The seeds of red poppy can be consumed either raw or cooked. The seeds are mostly employed in the form of flavouring bread, cake, fruit salads and others. They impart an extremely pleasant nutty essence. The seeds of this herb are somewhat petite; however they are enclosed in reasonably large seed pods and, hence, harvesting them is quite trouble-free. It is absolutely safe to consume the red poppy seeds, as they do not enclose any of the alkaloids that are related to the other parts of this plant.
The leaves of red poppy can also be consumed either raw or cooked. They are used as spinach or in the form of a flavouring agent in salads and soups. However, one should never use red poppy leaves after the formation or emergence of the flower buds on the plant. People who consume or plan to consume red poppy leaves ought to exercise some caution. The seeds yield edible oil, which is known to be a wonderful alternate for olive oil. The oil extracted from red poppy seeds may be used for cooking as well as dressing salads. The scarlet-hued flowers of red poppy are also used to prepare syrup, which is used in gruels, soups and other preparations. The petals yield a red dye that is employed to add essence, particularly in wine.
The seeds of red poppy possess a nutty flavour and are extensively used to add essence to bread and cakes, while the oil extracted from the seeds is highly valued by people in France and other countries. The new red poppy leaves are excellent when they are delicate and soft, prior to the plant producing the flower buds.
Interestingly enough, several parts of the red poppy plant also have craft utilities. For instance, while the flowers yield a red colorant, this dye is very fleeting or fugitive. For years people have been employing syrup prepared from the petals in the form of a coloring matter for old inks. The red petals of this herb are employed to color pot-pourris.
Habitat and cultivation
Red poppy is native to North Africa, Europe and the temperate regions of Asia. The herb is naturalized in North and South America, and although it does thrive in cultivated fields, it also grows rather well on roadsides too. The flowers can be picked during summer.
The red poppy plant has a preference for a properly drained sandy loam and a sunlit location. However, this plant does not thrive well on damp clay soils, but grows excellently in majority of other types of soils. Generally, red poppy plants freely sow by themselves when they are grown in appropriate conditions provided the surface of the soil is disturbed. Many named assortment of red poppy are preferred for their decorative worth. Red poppy is actually a member of the polymorphic species differing in the shape of the leaves as well as the color of the blooms. When this species is cultivated in cereal fields, they lessen the yields of the cereal plants grown in the vicinity. Red poppy as well as other members of this particular genus are seldom, if ever, bothered by browsing rabbits or deer.
Red poppy contains alkaloids (including papaverine, rhoeadine, isorhoeadine, and many others), meconic acid, mekocyanin, mucilage, and tannin. The alkaloids are similar to those in the opium poppy, but are much milder.
For an infusion of red poppy: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1- 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried flower petals. Then leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Drink this infusion thrice daily.
Side effects and cautions
It may be noted that while the red poppy is poisonous to mammals, the level of toxicity is less. However, the seed of this herb is not poisonous.
Collection and harvesting
In general, the petals of the flowers of the red poppy can be collected during the months of July and August, after the dew has dried, early in the morning. They must be dried very carefully.