What Is Papaver Somniferum?


Papaver somniferum, which is also known as opium poppy, is a plant species from which both poppy seeds and opium are derived. Papaver somniferum grows in the Mediterranean area east to Iran. Nowadays, it is commonly grown in many warm, temperate, subtropical and tropical nations around the globe. It is a biennial or annual herb.


Papaver somniferum is cultivated via seed. The seeds are not as sensitive to temperature as the majority of poppy species. The plants prefer cool weather and will not grow in conditions that are too warm. They should be planted in soil that is not overly heavy, and can be grown inside with lights. In areas with milder winters, they can be sown during the autumn. When outdoors, they should have full sun and high quality soil that isn't very wet. They are sensitive to frost.

Medicinal Use

Papaver somniferum is commonly used as a medicinal plant. Dried juice from the opium poppy is what is made into morphine and heroin. Poppies have a vast array of traditional uses; they have been used as an antispasmodic, astringent, aphrodisiac, narcotic, hypnotic, sedative, expectorant and diaphoretic. It also has been used for soothing cough and toothache.


Papaver somniferum produces two common ingredients in food: poppyseed oil and poppy seed. The seeds are often used as a condiment for pastries and baked goods due to their nutty taste and fragrance. The seeds and oil are not narcotic, though if you eat something containing poppy seeds and then undergo a drug test, it will read positive for opiates.


Papaver somniferum can grow to be almost 4 feet tall (when the plant is erect). The flowers can be many different colors, including pink, white, purple and red. The seeds range from pure white to a slate blue color.


Apart from the plant's many medicinal and food uses, it is also a popular ornamental plant due to its bright flowers and overall attractive appearance. It is a common garden staple, and because of that is often called simply the "common garden poppy."

Keywords: papaver somniferum, opiates, opium poppy

About this Author

Isabel Prontes is a freelance writer and traveler residing in Manhattan, NY. She has traveled to five continents and counting. Her work has appeared on a number of websites, such as Travels, eHow.com and "Happy Living Magazine." Prontes has a professional background in public relations; she received a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Pace University.