Poppies Fact File
Many of us associate the poppy with Remembrance Day, and quite rightly so. The poppy has come to symbolise the sacrifice soldiers made during the war because the corn poppy was the first plant to flower in the churned soil of soldiers’ graves, and in the trenches and craters of the war zone. Widows of the war made poppies out of silk and sold them to help support the bereft families, which is why it is customary today to donate and receive a poppy around 11 November.
Poppies date back to the ancient Sumerians who referred to the flower as ‘hul gil’, or plant of joy. They discovered the plant could provide food through its seeds and the oil could be extracted for cooking. They also discovered the now-famous narcotic effect of the opium poppies. They relayed their knowledge of the flower to the Assyrians, who in turn passed on their cultivation methods to the Babylonians and then on to the Egyptians. The use of opium flourished during Egyptian times, mainly as a sleeping aid. The ancient Greeks also embraced the opium poppy and worshipped it alongside their gods; Hypnos the god of sleep, Nyx the goddess of night, and Thanatos the God of death. Because of the poppy’s narcotic properties, they were also used as an offering to the dead as a symbol of eternal sleep.
Over time, opium became a social drug that was smoked firstly across Asia and then across the world as trading increased. As a consequence, poppies now flourish pretty much everywhere. As a result of cultivation and cross-pollination, they come in many colours – from the red we all know and love to white, blue, orange, yellow and more.
In 1803, Friedrich Seturner of Germany discovered the active ingredient of opium and created the miracle drug ‘morphine’. This was an incredible breakthrough in medicine, and shows how important the poppy is. Unfortunately, it was also later discovered that the boiling of this product created another drug – heroin. This is why the growth and use of opium is now illegal.
Poppies, or ‘Papaver’ in Latin, tend to bloom throughout the spring and the beginning of autumn, as long as they can enjoy enough sunlight. They are bright, colourful and brilliantly ornament any garden.