The Cottage Smallholder

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Opium poppies (Papaver somniferum)

opium poppy and hover fliesI went into the garden in the morning when it was sunny to check the keets and see what was happening in the garden generally. The rain has battered a lot of the plants in the herbaceous border but it still is looking lush. This opium poppy had opened in the kitchen garden and was attracting hover flies.

I love the flowers of this anual herb. The papery petals and their fleeting flowering makes them so special. I have seen opium poppies in the hedgerows in the lanes around here. They are tough plants that thrive anywhere.

The medicinal value of opium poppies is massive. Although the young seed heads are used to produce opium (heroin) they are also farmed and refined to produce the opiates for codine, morphine and a number of useful drugs. Opiates are highly addictive. Did you know that the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were opium addicts? Ancient civilizations used poppy extracts in their medicines to treat pain killing and induce sleep. The names of some Gods reflect this such as Morpheus the Greek God of Dreams.

Opium poppies always remind me of my mother. Not because she is a small scale opium producer but rather because she always allowed poppies and other culinary flowers and herbs to self seed in her kitchen garden. I have continued the tradition and enjoy seeing what pops up every year.

John Coe disapproves and refuses to even refer to these stray plants by name.
“I suppose you will be keeping those.” He stabs at the air just above them with his hoe. I usually weed the kitchen garden the evening before his bi-weekly visit so he is not tempted to rip the poppies up with the weeds.

We let the seed heads dry out and use the seeds in homemade bread and cakes. I always scatter some seeds in the kitchen garden, when John Coe’s back is turned.

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  1. we are all sensible adults on here and there are many plant we all grow in the garden that contain natural drugs within them. As long as you don’t plant 2000 of them and then go around cutting them to collect the opium you are fine. I have grown poppies including the SOMNIFERUM form for years and I fined them a wonderful plant to grow with there beautiful flowers and sculptural blue pod, I also collect the dried pods for my wife to use to decorate the house.

  2. Some opium poppies growing in my garden. I have just telephoned Cambridge Police. They are happy as long as I do not process them for opium.

  3. I love poppy plants and my favorite is the Hemolain blue poppy in my garden in New York. How do I get Opium poppy seeds to plant?

    • Fiona Nevile

      You can buy opium poppy seeds here if you are in the USA

  4. john peel

    Mmmm…I grow TONS of these and they do work in the Uk

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello John

      I love these flowers and they grow so easily on pretty basic ground. Haven’t extracted opium from them yet.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Ann

    I let the seed heads dry out on the plants and then harvest them. I reckon that the heads draw nutrients from the plants whilst they are setting the seeds.

    I’ve always had great results from doing this.

    I’m no expert but it works well in the cottage garden.

    If you pick the heads when they are green and dry them elsewhere you might be spoiling your chances “ the seeds need to mature on the plant.

  6. Ann Collins

    how do you collect the seeds of poppies, we dug over a corner of our 2 acre garden last year that hadn’t been used for anything except dumping garden waste for the last 10 years, and this year we have the most amazing show of beautiful poppies. We would like to collect the seeds to be able to seed again. When do you know they are ready, can you cut the heads of now and leave to dry in the greenhouse. Many thanks for your help. Ann Collins

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sue

    It’s legal to groe them in the UK just illegal to process them without a licence.

  8. sue kelley

    I have these poppies growing in my garden and adore their flowers. However my hubbie does not like them and is worried that we will end up with a fine for growing them. Is this true? Thanks

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi OrchidMorphine

    Yes, these poppies are a traditional, acceptable garden plant in the UK.

  10. OrchidMorphine

    Ah what a lovely poppy!You can get away with having these without the cops asking any questions?

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