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Poppy - Cultivation and uses


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Poppy is the common name for several species of the genus Papaver of the family Papaveraceae. It includes many species which are grown as garden flowers (garden poppies) and the species P. somniferum and its different varieties grown for the production of the important narcotic medicine opium (the dried latex exudate from the fully grown green capsule) and its edible seeds and seed oil. Opium is one of the oldest known painkillers and is the source of several alkaloids used for analgesic, antitussive and antispasmodic purposes in modern medicine. P. somniferum is named as the opium poppy. The opium poppy was cultivated by the ancient civilizations of Greece, Egypt, Italy, Persia and Mesopotamia. Poppy is now cultivated mainly for the production of opium and for the edible seed and seed oil. Poppy seeds are highly nutritive having no narcotic effect and used in breads, curries, sweets and confectioneries, and seed oil for culinary purposes.

Opium poppy is widely distributed in the temperate and subtropical regions of the old world extending from 60sN in North-West Soviet Union to the southern limit reaching almost the tropics. The centre of origin of Papaver somniferum (L.) is believed to be somewhere in the western Mediterranian region of Europe from where it spread through the Balkan Peninsula to Asia Minor as early as the tertiary period (Bazilevskays, 1976; Morton,

The plant poppy belongs to the genus Papaver of the dicot family Papaveraceae. There are about 0 species of Papaver distributed all over the world. Feede ) divided the genus papaver into nine sections, of which two sections ‘Mecones’ and ‘Mycrantha’

(Oxytona) are the only economically important groups. Valuable alkaloid yielding and edible seed producing species like P. somniferum, P. setigerum D.C. belong to the section

‘Mecones, but P. somniferum is the only species which is commercially cultivated. P. somniferum is not found in the wild state. But other members of this genus under the section Mecones, P. setigerum, P. glaucum, P. glacile and P. dicaisnei are found wild in the Mediterranean region. The species under the section Oxytona are P. bracteatum, P. orientale, P. pseudo-orientale and they also contain some opium alkaloids. P.

somniferum and P. setigerum shows close similarity and are now believed to have originated from a common ancestral stock (Vesselovskaya, ; Husain and Sharma,

; Singh et al , 1995a). The species which contains alkaloids are morphine, codeine, thebane, narcotine and papaverine.

P. somniferum is an erect, annual herb, 1 0 cm long with 5 to 5 cm thick stem. The root is either shy branched or much branched, tapering and yellow. The stem is glabrous with thick waxy coating. The leaves are numerous, alternate, sessile, spreading horizontally; the lower ones are about 5 cm long oval oblong deeply pinnatisect with acute segments. The upper ones reaching as much as 5 cm in length, gradually wider and with more cordate base, the uppermost ones in very broadly ovate, amplexicaul prominent veins, midrib very wide, nearly white. Puri ) noticed that in the race

‘Safaid patta’, the leaves are variegated with white streaks or blotches. In ‘Kutila’ or

‘Kutapatta’, the foliage is deeply cut into more or less narrow segments up to midrib and primary veins. A wide variation of leaf serration in Indian poppy was noticed by Nigam et al.

Flowers are few, solitary on a 5 cm long penducle. Flower buds are ovate-ovoid dropping, hermaphrodite, regular with two caducous sepals, smooth, green, petals four very large, polypetalous, generally white. Stamens are numerous, hypogynous, arranged in several whorls; anthers are linear attached with filament, cream coloured becoming pale brown and twisted after dehiscence. Ovary large depressed, globular, smooth pale green, one-celled with large spongy parietal placentae. Stigma is sessile, capitate with

20 short obtuse oblong rays. The fruit is a capsule varying in colour, shape and stigmatic rays. The immature capsule is covered with a waxy coating which imparts greyish-blue line to the capsule. The mature capsule is pale-brownish and sometimes may be variegated. The mature capsule may be globose or roundish, spherical, oblong to ovate oblong, depressed in some cases. The capsule has a rounded base but ends abruptly at the apex, opening by pore beneath the stigmatic rays. The stigmatic rays vary from 7 to 18. Seeds are numerous, very small, white grey, violet or black in colour, testa with a raised reticulated network, its embryo is slightly curved in the axis of the oily endosperm.

Poppy is generally considered as a self-pollinated plant, but there occurs a certain degree of outcrossing in poppy as has been reported by some workers (Singh et al., 1999). Nyman and Hall ) have reported as much as 9 % outcrossing. Since the insects play a major role in outcrossing, more outcrossing is expected in this species. Khanna and Shukla ) and Bhandari ) observed highly variable degrees of outcrossing in poppy and reported as high as % outcrossing. However, planned breeding of opium poppy is very recent. Different selection methods for opium yield and quality and oil seed yield were the objectives of the breeding work. Extensive breeding work on poppy has been carried out by many European and Indian breeders (Hlavackova, , ; Sip et al., ; Khanna, , 1 ; Khanna and Gupta, ; Saini and Kaicker, Sharma et al., 9 ; Bohm, ; Johnson and Loof, ; Goldblatt, ; Khanna and Shukla, 1989a, b; Singh et al ,

Singh et al. b) reported heterosis in poppy for many economic characters. Exploiting this aspect, a number of high yielding cultivars of poppy have thus been made by selection and breeding. Development of an opiumless variety producing high seed yield and food quality oil is considered to be very important considering the high nutritional value of the poppy seed and seed oil.


Poppy is cultivated for the legal pharmaceutical use of opium latex in India, USSR, Egypt, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, China, Japan, Argentina, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary and Portugal (Vesselovskaya , Ramanathan and Ramachandran, . Many European countries, however, grow poppy for its seed and seed oil. Poppy is also grown illegally for the narcotic trade and is categorized mainly in two groups:

Golden Triangle (Burma, Thailand and Laos region)

Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran region)

There exist no records about the extent of illegal poppy cultivation and production. Poppy can be cultivated in well-drained soil in open sunny locations in subtropical

regions, being irrigated during dry spells. Direct sowing is better as transplanted ones do not grow well. It is a six-months crop and sowing is done mostly in autumn. In India sowing is carried out at the beginning of November and seed is harvested in April the following year. Poppy is primarily cultivated in India for opium as a rich source of morphine for medical use and for seeds and seed oil.

There are a number of varieties of P. somniferum L. under cultivation in India. The races with white flowers are commonly grown in Uttar Pradesh. The races with red or purple flowers were common in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, but now these too are replaced by white flower types. No comprehensive taxonomic treatment on the cultivars of Indian opium poppy is available. Asthana ) described the different cultivars grown in India and broadly classified the races of opium poppy into ‘Sabzadhari(green, i.e., non-waxy capsules) and ‘Safaidhari(white, i.e. waxy capsules) types. During the last two to three decades, there has been a great erosion of poppy germplasm in India and many of the races described earlier by Asthana are no longer available today. To pinpoint the different races under cultivation in recent years, a detailed and classified investigation has been carried out by Khanna and Gupta ). They evaluated a large collection of germplasm from the various states which they categorized into basic cultivars. Not more than 5 basic cultivars could be recognized. Singh et al. ) has prepared a key for these cultivars on the basis of most salient features and some problems with regard to existing local names.

India is one of the largest producers of opium alkaloids in the world. As well as meeting the domestic demand, India exports opium to other countries. Its production and distribution is controlled by the Narcotic Controller of Govt. of India. At present poppy is cultivated mainly in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The area under poppy cultivation is controlled by the Narcotics Department, Government of India who give annual renewable licences to the farmers. The area under opium poppy cultivation is divided into 2 (opium) divisions covering the districts of Faizabad, Barabanki, Barelly and Shajahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Neemuch I and II, Mandsaur I and II and Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, and Kotah, Chittorgarh and Jhalawar in Rajasthan.

Chemical structure and uses

Cultivated poppy (P. somniferum) has great economic value because of the opium latex and also for the edible seed and seed oil. The capsule is the major organ for the opium latex, but the alkaloids are also present in other parts of the plants like stem, leaves, roots,

etc. The seeds do not contain any alkaloid, but are rich in edible oil of high quality. The straws of poppy also contain some alkaloids and are variously used in medicine.


Opium is brownish in colour when fresh and turns to brownish black when dried. It has a fruity odour. The total alkaloid content varies from %. It has a very complex chemical composition containing sugars, proteins, fats, water, meconic acid, plant wax, latex, gum, ammonia, sulphuric and lactic acids and numerous alkaloids (about 0 have been identified so far), most important among them including morphine 5%), codeine % , noscapine % , papaverine ) and thebaine . The range of major alkaloids contained in the Indian species are morphine % ; codeine

; thebaine 3 ; noscapine 1 ) and papaverine 3 . Papaver straw (dry capsule with 5 cm stem) contains a small quantity of alkaloid. All these compounds except thebaine are used medicinally as analgesics. The opioid analgesics are of inestimable value because they reduce or relieve pain without causing a loss of consciousness. They also relieve cough, spasm, fever and diarrhoea.

Opium is used as a narcotic, sedative, antispasmodic, hypnotic, sudorific and anti- diarrhoeal. The opium is official in pharmacopoeias of several countries. Opium tincture and camphorated opium tinctures are the most generally used in dosage forms for coughs. Suppositories of opium with lead are employed to relieve rectal and pelvic pains and ointment of opium with gall is applied in haemorrhoids. Opium is also used in veterinary practice.

Poppy seed

Poppy seeds are free from narcotics and are highly nutritious and taken by preparing various preparations. Poppy seeds are tiny, kidney shaped, generally white, occasionally red or pink to grey. They are attached to the lateral projections from the inner walls of the capsules and are produced in abundance. The seeds have well developed endosperm filled with aleurone grains. About 0 seeds weigh 1 gm (Husain and Sharma, . The poppy seeds do not contain opium.

Poppy seeds are devoid of any narcotic compounds, but have high nutritive value and are used as a food and a source of edible oil. They are used in breads, curries, sweets and confectioneries. Analysis of Indian poppy seeds showed moisture %, protein

, crude fibre %, calcium 5 , phosphorus 9% and iron 1 mg/100 g. Seeds also contain thiamine, riboflavin, nicotininc acid and lecithin. Minor minerals in the seeds include iodine 6 g/kg).

The seeds have a high protein content, the major component being globulin which accounts for % of the total nitrogen. The amino acid make-up of the globulin is similar to that of the whole seed protein and is as follows, arginine 1 , histidine (2.9%), lysine , methionine % , theonine ) and valine . The protein are deficient in lysine and methionine. At % level of intake they have a biological value of

% and digestibility coefficient of

The oil cake after extraction of oil from seeds contains about % protein and is used as a concentrate in feeding pigs and other animals reared for meat. Poppy seeds are utilized as food and as a source of fatty oil. They are considered to be highly nutritive and used in breads, curries, sweets and confectionery. Seeds are demulcent and are used in the form of emulsion as an emollient and as specific against obstinate constipation and in catarrh of the bladder. The whole seeds are sometimes used in pharmaceuticals.

Seed oil

Poppy seeds contain % of edible oil with a pleasant aroma and taste like almond oil. The oil is a rich source of linoleic acid %) which makes it a good oil for nutrition, as a high percentage of linoleic acid is desirable for lowering the cholesterol content in the human system and thus prevent coronary heart trouble. Seeds from capsule which have not been sacrificed for opium give a higher yield of oil than from those sacrificed. Poppy seed oil is used widely for culinary purposes. It is free from narcotic compounds and used as a cooking medium or as salad oil. It is free from narcotic properties. It is mixed with olive oil and used as a salad oil. It has a high digestibility coefficient of about % at a daily intake of 0 g. On hydrogenation, it yields a product similar to groundnut oil, which may also be useful for industrial purposes. The chemical composition of seed oil of Indian poppy is reported by Singh et al. ) as follows:

Palmitic acid : : –21.48% Stearic acid 0 : 10.80% Oleic acid : 6.79%; Linoleic acid : : 0–60.00%; Linolenic acid : : 0–9.40% Manganese 9 mg/kg)

Copper 9 mg/kg) Magnesium 6 g/kg) Zinc 0 mg/kg)

In India the oil is expressed by the cold process, the yield being about . In France, three stages are observed.

First cold expression – a very superior oil used for the table purposes and in the manufacture of very high quality paints

Second cold expression – lower grade edible oil also used for paints and illumination

Third hot expression – a much inferior oil to either of the others used chiefly in soap making.

The oil is rendered perfectly colourless by exposure to sun. Although both white seeded and black seeded are used for oil pressing, black seed is mostly preferred.

Cold pressing seeds of fine quality yields 0 to % of virgin white oil, a transparent limpid fluid with a slight yellowish tinge, bland and pleasant to taste and with almost no perceptible odour. On second pressure with the aid of heat an additional % to % of inferior oil is obtained. This oil is somewhat reddish in colour and possesses a biting taste, and a linseed-like smell. Poppy seed oil has specific gravity (15s/25sC :

, and refractive index 7 to , iodine value ; sap value , and acid value %

Banerji et al. ) studied and characterized the unsaponified matter of the seeds of poppy and found a total of 5 constituents of which seven major constituents were identified. Sitosterol was found to be the major constituent %) followed by campsterol 1 .2 ), avenasterol 7.2 , cholestanol 4 9% , stigmasterol 2. %), cholesterol %) and D7-campsterol %

Capsule husk

Capsule husk is used in tea. Bonda Chai Bonda tea), prepared by powdered capsules and then brewed with tea, has been prevalent in Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, mainly among

truck and lorry drivers and farm labour. Poppy tea has been a common home remedy for many hundreds of years in Europe and is still practised in many of these countries. It is considered to be helpful in detoxing the heroin addiction.

To make poppy tea, after removing the seeds the poppy capsules are powdered in a coffee grinder or spice grinder into a fine powder. The powder is added to boiling water and stirred into a brew. The brew is left to cool while stirring occasionally and then filtered through a wire mesh strainer. The liquid thus obtained is bitter and taken with licorice or mixed with tea. Stem ground powder is also used to make poppy tea. The leftover pulp can be used again to make another cup of tea by adding boiling water.

Other parts of poppy plant

Poppy straw (unlaced capsule) has been made use of in Europe and other places as a source of morphine where it is cultivated mainly for seed and oil. Poppy plants are used in production of paper-pulp to make handmade boards. Poppy plants are sometimes eaten like lettuce leaves. It is grown as a pot herb in Iran. The red poppy flowers are used in medicine for making syrup. The red and lilac flower contains a colouring matter and are suitable for use as indicator. Poppy leaves were at one time in the French Pharmacopoeia. It contains morphine – ) and other alkaloids in small quantities.


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