Latin: Papaver somniferum
Parts Used: Poppy heads. The latex of the capsules for the opium.
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cold
Properties: Analgesic, anxiolytic, sedative, euphoric, narcotic
Actions: Its amazing what a beautiful little flower can do. For thousands of years, cultivators of this flower have cut into the ripe capsules to remove the latex to dry and make into the potent pain relieving and narcotic opium. Sadly this lovely flower is now cultivated primarily for a worldwide multi-billion dollar heroin industry leading to untold suffering, addiction, strife and wars. Sad because the plant could be a very useful plant if used responsibly. Needless to say it is quite illegal to make “medicine” from this plant though one may grow it ornamentally.
Many years back in my more freewheeling days a friend suggested trying opium poppy heads as a tea. The dried heads also contain some of the morphine, codeine and thebaine alkaloids responsible for the narcotic effect, but nowhere near the potency found in the opium latex. Unfortunately for me I was a novice and made a mistake in consuming too much of the tea. I initially became strongly sedated and euphoric but soon after became severely nauseous and vomited violently for many hours. Though it is not as potent as opium, the tea of the heads can be quite dangerous, leading to respiratory distress and there has been one case of a death attributed to this method of extraction.
So though I hesitated to place this plant in the book, I think its key to honor a plant that has had thousands of years of use as perhaps the most important and effective analgesic herb on the planet. Alkaloids derived from poppy and turned into synthetic drugs like vicodin and percoset have become the primary way of managing pain in our health system and are responsible for an epidemic of overdose deaths.
Today opium poppy heads are often purchased over the internet by those seeking a recreational high or those seeking a replacement for those strong synthetic pharmaceuticals.
Dosage: By writing about dosage I am in no way recommending using this plant as an analgesic or recreational agent. Frankly, it can be dangerous and is known to be addictive as well. At the same time, I think it is key to understand all medicinal plants and their effects. For opium poppy, a light dose is between 1-3 pods (weighing on average 2 grams a pod.). A medium dose is 3-5 and over 5 pods is a strong dose. Generally the pods are chopped up or ground in a coffee grinder and then placed in a pot of 2-4 cups of water. The water is brought to a boil and then the poppy is simmered for 10 minutes. Then the very bitter tea is strained from the poppy and drunk.
Contraindications: Many- Its addictive and dangerous and should absolutely be avoided with any other sedatives, alcohol.