Papaver spp.



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Papaver spp.

Important legal information for all customers:

1) The importation of Papaver somniferum seeds into Australia is prohibited under the Customs Act 1901, Regulations, Schedule 4 (Drugs). The seeds offered by Shaman Australis Botanicals are collected from escaped weed plants or sourced from little Granny next door type cottage gardens within Australia. We do not grow any poppies ourselves and we do not recommend our seeds to be used for growing purposes, as this may contravene council, state and federal legislation.

2) The export of Papaver somniferum seeds does not appear to be prohibited under the Customs Act, but we have been made aware of a retailer being raided for doing just that. These seeds are readily available overseas, so we prefer to keep our stock for our local customers and will not ship Papaver somniferum seeds overseas.

3) The export of Papaver bracteatum plant parts (including seeds) is prohibited under Schedule 8 (export regulations) of the Customs Act.

4) The possession or manufacture of poppy straw, extracts, or resins derived from any part of Papaver somniferum (except the seeds) is prohibited under various federal and state legislations.

5) The cultivation of Papaver somniferum and Papaver bracteatum is a illegal under federal, state and local legislation.

HEALTH WARNING: Please see for more information on the dangers of consuming poppy seed tea.

Botanical information

Papaver somniferum: The Opium Poppy is an annual plant, that grows to a height of 1.5m with a spread of 1m. The stem is bluish grey and generally hairy. The leaves are 12cm long, oval to oblong and deeply lobed, with serrate margins. The flowers are 4 petalled combinations of white, pink, red, black and purple, generally with dark blotches at the base of the petal. The fruit are hemispherical capsules containing numerous small kidney shaped seeds.

Papaver somniferum is a native of the Middle East and is adaptable to most soils and positions, but prefers exposed soil in a sunny location. While it will grow without much water, such plants will be much smaller than those with good water and fertiliser during the early growth period. Papaver somniferum is a weed of disturbed places and is often found growing on roadsides, cultivated fields and on erosion scars.

Propagation is by seed sown directly where it is to grow. Poppies do not like to be transplanted. The seed requires light to germinate and is best sprinkled on top of the soil rather than buried. The young seedlings are prone to drying out for the first few days until a good root system is established.

All varieties and forms of the same species will cross pollinate. In commercial applications at least 500m between poppy strains is recommended to prevent cross pollination.

There are many forms and strains of opium poppy which were bred for improvement of traits such as seed yield, alkaloid profile, or ornamental value, but in botanical terms there are only a few defined varieties:

Papaver somniferum var album is the white seeded variety grown in India and Iran (Persia). It is easily recognised by the fact that the capsules do not develop apertures for the seeds to escape. The flowers are usually pure white or at least predominantly white, but red varieties are also known.

Papaver somniferum var nigrum has dark seeds and the pods have apertures at the top of the pod where the dry seed escapes. The flowers are usually violet. It is commonly grown in Europe almost exclusively for its seeds.

Papaver somniferum var glabrum also has apertures at the top of the pod where the dry seed escapes and the seed itself can be either dark or violet and any combination. The flowers range from white to purple. It is commonly grown in Turkey.

Papaver somniferum var steigerum is a wild form found only in southern Europe. The whole plant is covered in bristles and the leaves are sharply pointed. This variety is unlikely to be seen in cultivation.

Traditional uses

Papaver somniferum: Opium poppy is a strong analgesic and narcotic and has been used for this purpose all over the world. The opium is traditionally harvested by making vertical cuts into the ripening pod and collecting the resin that exudes. This raw opium is sometimes consumed as is, but in recent times is more commonly refined by various methods to yield a more potent and attractive product. Opium is generally smoked, but can also be ingested as a resin ball or tincture, or administered rectally. Opium or the refined morphine were once popular and effective ingredients in many household remedies. An alcoholic tincture of opium or poppy is called laudanum. The ancient Greeks used a concoction made by soaking poppy straw in wine to produce poppy wine. The method of making poppy tea from poppy pods has in recent times become popular in countries where poppy pods are legal. Similarly poppy seeds soaked in water are also popularly used to make a sedating drink called poppyseed tea. (NOTE: All administration methods of non-standardised poppy products can be fatal!!!) The seeds of all Papaver somniferum varieties are used as food and oil crops.

Papaver somniferum is widely grown for producing the raw materials for producing refined opiates such as morphine. Australia is the largest producer of legal opiates in the world, but some cultivation is also done in Turkey, India, Pakistan, fomer USSR, Yugoslavia and some others. India is the only country that still produces legal raw opium for use in medicine as opium rather than refined opiates. Most poppy cultivation however is illicit or at least the raw material is used in the illicit opiate trade. Major production areas are in South East Asia (Myanmar), Afghanistan and South America. Illicit opium is the basis for heroin production.


Papaver somniferum: Poppy straw usually consists only of the aerial parts of the poppy plant. All parts of the plant have different alkaloid profiles and the root is generally regarded as undesirable.Alkaloid extractions from poppy straw produce a mixture of over 50 alkaloids, but most of these are only present in trace amounts. The 5 major constituents are the morphinane alkaloids morphine (3-25%), codeine (0.5-4%) and thebaine (0.4%) as well as the benzylisoquinoline alkaloid papaverine (0.5-1%), and the pthaleideisoquinoline alkaloid narcotine (1-12%). Opium produced by traditional methods has the major constituents in somewhat different ratios: morphine (8-14%), codeine 2.5-3.5%, narcotine (1-7.5%), papaverine 0.5-1%) and thebaine (0.1-2%). Most of the alkaloids are present as the meconic acid salts in the plant and unprocessed opium.

Powdered Opium is still used in some countries, especially India and is usually adjusted to 10% morphine content. The more potent form Opium Concentrate is standardised to about 50% morphine.

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