Poppies have been immortalized in art and in poetry. There is much symbolism and legend attached to the beautiful flower. The characters of the Wizard of Oz where put to sleep by the power of the poppy, and the flower has been worn to honor those that died in wars. The oriental poppy is a flower has been grown in gardens for centuries and is still a favorite today.
The flowers of the oriental poppy or Papavar oriental are large cup like blooms that are mostly red with purplish blotches near the center. They also come in pink, white, orange and even a blue variety. There are actually over 50 varieties of this beloved flower. The petals are frilly and ruffled and have a papery texture. They grow on hairy green stems about one foot from the ground and the leaves are toothed and hairy.
Early History of Poppies
There has been evidence of poppies found in Egyptian tombs that are 3000 years old. The Greeks made a mixture of poppy seeds, honey and wine and fed it to their athletes so that they would have good health and much strength. The Romans enjoyed the flower as well and they are the ones that spread it to England and the rest of Europe. Romans linked the flower to their own god of sleep and repose.
There are many different types of poppies and most that have legends, folklore and history are other cultivars than the Oriental Poppy. The line of the oriental poppy is traced back to Asia Minor and because of its beauty it was spread all over the world.
Poppies in Art
Oriental poppies show up in much Chinese art and represent loyalty and faith in lovers. Robert Vonnoh painted his masterpiece called "In Flanders Field" in 1890 depicting women picking the flowers in an overgrown field. Other great artists have used poppies as a theme in their paintings including Van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet. Georgia O'Keefe's most popular painting is of poppies painted in 1928.
During the Napoleonic war it was noticed that poppies grew all over battlefield where soldiers died. In England they are like weeds and grow in fields. These are a different type of poppy but are still the red variety. The relationship to deceased soldiers continued in the poem "Flanders Field" by Canadian Lt. Col John McCrae. He joined the allies during World War II as a medical officer. During a quiet time he wrote the poem on a page of his dispatch book. From then on poppies became a symbol of honor to fallen soldiers. All over the world, crepe paper flowers in the form of the oriental poppy are worn to commemorate the sacrifice these soldiers gave for their countries.
Although they look round and black, poppy seeds have a blue hue and are kidney shaped. They form in the seed pod of the flower. There is some speculation that eating the seeds will cause a positive opiate drug test. This is not true because poppy seeds do not come from the opium poppy. Poppy seeds are toasted and give a nice flavor and crunch to breads and pastries. The Egyptians made cooking oil from them and they were used extensively in cooking in the Middle Ages.