Papaver somniferum OR Poppy plant is an erect plant with little branching cultivated for its seeds. It grows 60 cm to 120 cm in height. This flowering plant forms the source of opium, the drug from which we derive many medical alkaloids such as morphine. The Papaver somniferum plant can be annual, biennial, or short-lived perennial plant.
Flowers of the species have 4 -6 petals with an ovary of more than two fused carpels. The plant stands at 4 feet, and the flowers are six inches in diameter. It has numerous stamens that form a conspicuous whorl at the centre of the flower. When the blooming season is over, the petals crumple and fall off. The blooming of the Ahiphena takes place from spring to early summer. When injured, the blooming bud will secrete latex. A few of the species will die after coming into bloom. This monocarpic nature is restricted to some of the species only.
The attractive flowers are cultivated as ornamental flowers, but most of them are cultivated for drugs and food. The opium and dried latex form the precursor for analgesic and narcotic opiates that result in codeine, morphine, and heroin. However, it has a use in cooking too as it lends a delicious aroma and taste to the dishes and helps to make curries thick. The fruits are round shaped capsules.
The Poppy seeds find use in the preparation of poppy seed oil. This edible oil has many health benefits. The seeds come in different colours – white (digestive property), black (causes death), yellow (is useful as a tonic), and multi-coloured (remove body residues).
The highly addictive narcotic drug opium comes into existence from the dried latex. It has many alkaloids such as narcotine, papaverine, codeine, meconic acid, thebaine, morphine, and others. However, the poppy seeds do not contain the alkaloids. The poppy seed oil prepared from the seeds is helpful in preventing the incidence of breast cancer. It also helps against many cardiovascular disorders and helps treat iron deficiency. The oil has good amounts of linoleic acid, calcium, and carbohydrates.
The Papaver somniferum flower is symbolic of sleep and death. This is because the poppy flower induces sleep and the colour of the flower, which is mostly red, symbolizes death. Another symbolism associated with the flower is a resurrection. The practice of using poppy seeds to alleviate pain began in the Ancient Egypt where the doctors made their patients, who were suffering pain to eat the seeds. These contained a small portion of codeine and morphine.
The poppy plant grows in well-drained soil that is fertile. The soil should have clay and be slightly acidic or natural. The clay loam soil should have plenty of organic matter in it. You must provide enough sunshine, and the temperature should be below 20 degrees centigrade during the growing period. During the reproductive phase, the temperature should be 30 – 35 degrees centigrade. This makes the yield plentiful and the harvest of the latex is ideally in February- March period. If you have hailstorms and gales during this period, the yield is likely to suffer.
A collection of the latex follows the lancing operation. The latex is a milky substance that flows from the capsule upon lancing. This is whitish, and as it dries, it becomes black. The next day, the black residue is collected. They grip the poppy capsule between the thumb and forefinger and scraping occurs. After the scrapping, they clean the capsule by rubbing with the thumb. The collection occurs in earthenware pots inside which you have a lining of polyethylene sheets. Each of the capsules contains 12,000 seeds and weighs about 7 grams.
Now they transfer the blackish sediments to wooden trays to dry further. After they test these for quality, they send them for processing.
Important Phytoconstituents: The important phytoconstituents in this are morphine, codeine, papaverine, Apomorphine, narcotine, and pseudo morphine.
The common name is Ahiphena, Poppy plant and opium poppy. People know it as opium or postaka in English. In Hindi, the name is Khas-khas.
Botanical name or family
The botanical name is Papaver Somniferum. It is an Angiosperma of the order of Ranunculates. It is of the Papaveraceae family.
Places where Papaver somniferum plant grows
This herb is native to the eastern Mediterranean region. Many countries in Asia, Europe, and China grow this plant. The government takes active steps in regulating the production of Ahiphena. However, in the olden days, it grew in plentiful in the higher elevations. At present, cultivation stands banned in Kerala and TamilNadu. The states that produce Papaver somniferum include Bengal, UP, Rajasthan, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar. This is besides the mountainous regions of the Himalayas.
Medicinal Uses of Papaver somniferum
Opium Poppy finds lots of use in treatment and alleviation of the symptoms of pain and itching. You can use it to induce sleep and makes people calm.
- Used to treat epilepsy.
- People with sperm problems can get corrections using this herb.
- Get relief from diarrhea.
- Depressant of cerebrum.
- Hypnotic sedative.
- Used for respiratory paralysis.
- Internal hemorrhage.
- Treat sciatic pain.
Morphine finds use in people with acute angina. Papaverine has muscle relaxing abilities and codeine is an anti-tussive agent.
Opium poppy side effects
One has to take note that small doses of morphine cause sleep and relief from pain. If the dosage exceeds 2 grams for opium, the dose becomes fatal. Even a small overdose can cause the person to become drowsy, and suffer respiratory arrest. If left unattended, this could lead to death.
The antidote for this is to do a stomach wash and emesis. One must use antidotes such as ghee and tobacco. Then, take cardiac stimulants such as Kasturi.
Contraindications: People with kidney disease should not have opium, similarly those suffering from mental disorders. You must not give this to children.
It is good for the respiratory tract and is kapha hara. This plant has strengthening and pain relieving properties. It is a sedative and an aphrodisiac. Any herb has the potency to cause serious danger and even take the life. So, do not prepare your own decoctions for treatments. Use the advice of a qualified herbal expert to prepare the potions.