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Poppy Seed
(Papaver somniferum)

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Because we believe, for the reasons set forth on the main Herbs directory page, that growing spice plants for seed is not wise gardening, we will not be updating this page--but, for those who disagree, the information here should suffice.

About Poppy Seed

As almost everyone knows, morphine and its common form as opium are "controlled substances"--that is, illegal drugs. What most people also know is that opium is derived from a variety of poppy flower ("pipe of poppy"). What very few realize is that that variety is not some hothouse exotic: it is your basic, familiar, old seed poppy--the same flower whose seeds grace your bakery buns. The amount of morphine in the usual "poppy seed" used for culinary purposes is laughably negligible--nevertheless, growing some poppy seed for your home-baked rolls may well be--no joking here--a big-time crime.

We say "may well be" because even now the actual state of the law appears to be, even to experts, rather cloudy. And yes, we're talking here about private individuals growing poppy for seed in their own home garden--don't think this is about mass cultivators or duuggies. About the best layman's summary we could find is from the Wikipedia article on "opium poppies" (which is indeed the kind grown for the familiar poppy seed used in baking); we strongly recommend a reading of it to anyone who wants to grow their own poppies for seed harvest. That at least as recently as 1997 rather dire consequences could flow from ordinary home-gardening of poppies was the subject of a a long article--the cover story, in fact--on the subject of poppy seeds and our looney-tune laws in the April 1997 issue of the prestigious Harper's magazine. Chances are that the feds won't raid you if you just have a couple of plants for seed purposes, but be warned that a spiteful neighbor could, with an anonymous telephone call, in a flash have you in the slammer explaining your cooking habits to a G-Man.

And be aware that just eating baked goods garnished with poppies might make you fail a drug-use test--really.

Be aware that there is a lot of misinformation on this topic on the web, including casual unreferenced offhand statements about what is or isn't legal. Considering that culinary poppy seed can be bought cheap, leaving this one alone seems even more of a no-brainer than the rest of the home seed-growing efforts. (Here's yet another warn-off.) But if you want to persist . . . .


The variety Przemko was, it is claimed, especially bred to be low in morphine--which is silly, because the dried seed almost always is anyway. There is also a variety called Hungarian Blue Seeded that is said to produce most of the culinary poppy seed grown commercially. Doubtless either would do for home-gardening purposes, though seed catalogues only rarely give cultivar names for seed poppy.


The seed poppy is a perennial best grown in a pot, because it is almost impossible to eradicate once sown anywhere--it is said the the merest scrap of cut root (and its root system is extensive) will regrow as a new plant.

Despite its Oriental aura, suggesting steamy jungles, poppy is a cold-loving plant (think "Icelandic poppy"). You can plant very early in spring--pretty much as soon as the snow cover is gone. Just plant a seed or three in a pot and water regularly. Germination is anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks.

Though the plant is perennial, it is probably best to renew it every few years: perennials maintained for very long periods tend to lose some vigor. Or, as one grows it for seed, it can be grown as an annual--a little of the fall-harvested seed can be planted, in the fall, for a new crop the following year.


When the plants are about 10 inches tall, you can start occasionally fertilizing with a liquid fertilizer.

Seed poppies grow long stems with a flower the seed pod atop them. The flowers usually last a few days (3 to 8 days, one source says), then the petals drop off. After that, the plant gets busy making seed--the seed pods fatten up, usually to well over an inch in diameter. Eventually, the pods' seed vents open up and release the seed. You want to harvest at that point: one way is to secure a small, permeable bag of some sort (cheesecloth, or perhaps an old bit of row cover) around the growing seed head to collect the seeds when they are released; another way is to estimate seed ripeness and pick just before release (but you really, really want the seeds fully ripened).

The flowers of seed poppy are lovely, being similar to those of poppies grown for floral decorative purposes. If you want, you can treat the plant as an annual and, after harvest, cut the stems for dried-flower arrangements.

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