The Scarlet Poppy of our cornfields (Papaver Rhoeas) is one of

the most brilliant and familiar of English wild flowers, being

strikingly conspicuous as a weed by its blossoms rich in scarlet

petals, which are black at the base. The title Papaver has been

derived from pap, a soft food given to young infants, in which it was

at one time customary to boil Poppy seeds for the purpose of

inducing sleep. Provincially this pl
nt bears the titles of Cop Rose

(from its rose-like flowers, and the button-like form of its cop, or

capsule) and Canker Rose, from its detriment to wheat crops.

The generic term Rhoeas comes from reo, to fall, because the

scarlet petals have so fragile a hold on their receptacles; and the

plant has been endowed with the sobriquet, John Silver Pin, fair

without and foul within. In the Eastern counties of England any

article of finery brought out only occasionally, and worn with

ostentation by a person otherwise a slattern, is called Joan Silver

Pin. After this sense the appellation has been applied to the Scarlet

Poppy. Its showy flower is so attractive to the eye, whilst its inner

juice is noxious, and stains the hands of those who thoughtlessly

crush it with their fingers.

And Poppies a sanguine mantle spread,

For the blood of the dragon St. Margaret shed.

Robert Turner naively says, The Red Poppy Flower (Papaver

erraticum) resembleth at its bottom the settling [438] of the 'Blood

in pleurisie'; and, he adds, how excellent is that flower in diseases

of the pleurisie with similar surfeits hath been sufficiently


It is further called Blindy Buff, Blind Eyes, Headwarke, and

Headache, from the stupefying effects of smelling it. Apothecaries

make a syrup of a splendid deep colour from its vividly red petals;

but this does not exercise any soporific action like that concocted

from the white Poppy, which is a sort of modified opiate, suitable

for infants under certain conditions, when sanctioned by a doctor.

Otherwise, all sedatives of a narcotic sort are to be strongly

condemned for use by mothers, or nurses:--

But a child that bids the world 'Good-night'

In downright earnest, and cuts it quite,

(A cherub no art can copy),

'Tis a perfect picture to see him lie,

As if he had supped on dormouse pie,

An ancient classical dish, by-the-bye,

With a sauce of syrup of Poppy.

Petronius, in the time of Nero, A.D. 80, delivered an odd receipt

for dressing dormouse sausages, and serving them up with Poppies

and honey, which must have been a very soporiferous dainty, and as

good as owl pye to such as want a nap after dinner.

The white Poppy is specially cultivated in Britain for the sake of its

seed capsules, which possess attributes similar to opium,

but of a weaker strength. These capsules are commonly known as

Poppyheads, obtained from the druggist for use in domestic

fomentations to allay pain. Also from the capsules, without their

seeds, is made the customary syrup of White Poppies, which is so

familiar as a sedative for childhood; but it should be always

remembered that infants of tender years are highly susceptible to the

influence even of this mild form [439] of opium. The true gum

opium, and laudanum, which is its tincture, are derived from Eastern

Poppies (Papaver somniferum) by incisions made in the capsules

at a proper season of the year. The cultivated Poppy of the garden

will afford English opium in a like manner, but it is seldom used for

this purpose. A milky juice exudes when the capsules of these

cultivated flowers are cut, or bruised. They are familiar to most

children as drumsticks, plucked in the garden after the gaudy petals

of the flowers have fallen off. The leaves and stems likewise afford

some of the same juice, which, when inspissated, is known as

English opium. The seeds of the white Poppy yield by expression a

bland nutritive oil, which may be substituted for that of olives, or

sweet almonds, in cooking, and for similar uses. Dried Poppy-heads,

formerly in constant request for making hot soothing stupes, or for

application directly to a part in pain, are now superseded for the

most part by the many modern liquid preparations of opium handy

for the purpose, to be mixed with hot water, or applied in poultices.

For outward use laudanum may be safely added to stupes, hot or

cold, a teaspoonful being usually sufficient for the purpose, or

perhaps two, if the pain is severe; and powdered opium may be

incorporated with one or another ointment for a similar object. If a

decoction of Poppy capsules is still preferred, it should be made by

adding to a quarter-of-a-pound of white Poppy heads (free from

seeds, and broken up in a mortar) three pints of boiling water; then

boil for ten or fifteen minutes, and strain off the decoction, which

should measure about two pints.

Dr. Herbert Snow, resident physician at the Brompton Cancer

Hospital, says (1895) he has found: after a [440] long experience,

Opium exhibits a strong inhibitive influence on the cancer elements,

retarding and checking the cell growth, which is a main feature of

the disease. Even when no surgical operation has been performed,

Opium is the only drug which markedly checks cancer growth: and

the early employment of this medicine will usually add years of

comfortable life to the otherwise shortened space of the sufferer's

existence. Opium gets its name from the Greek apos, juice.

The seeds of the white Poppy are known us mawseed, or balewort,

and are given as food to singing birds. In old Egypt these seeds were

mixed with flour and honey, and made into cakes.

Pliny says: The rustical peasants of Greece glazed the upper crust

of their loaves with yolks of eggs, and then bestrewed them with

Poppy seeds, thus showing that the seeds were then considered free

from narcotic properties. And in Queen Elizabeth's time these seeds

were strewn over confectionery, whilst the oil expressed from them

was delightful to be eaten when taken with bread.

White Poppy capsules, when dried, furnish papaverine and

narcotine, with some mucilage, and a little waxy matter. The seeds

contained within the capsules yield Poppy seed oil, with a fixed oil,

and a very small quantity of morphia--about five grains in a pound

of white Poppy seeds. In some parts of Russia the seeds are put into


The Poppy was cultivated by the Greeks before the time of

Hippocrates. It has long been a symbol of death, because sending

persons to sleep. Ovid says, concerning the Cave of Somnus:--

Around whose entry nodding Poppies grow,

And all cool Simples that sweet rest bestow.

[441] The common scarlet Poppy was called by the Anglo-Saxons

Chesebolle, Chebole, or Chybolle, from the ripe capsule

resembling a round cheese.

There is a Welsh Poppy, with yellow flowers; and a horned Poppy,

named after Glaucus, common on our sea coasts, with sea-green

leaves, and large blossoms of golden yellow. Glaucus, a fisherman

of Boeotia, observed that all the fishes which he caught received

fresh vigour when laid on the ground, and were immediately able to

leap back into the sea. He attributed these effects to some herb

growing in the grass, and upon tasting the leaves of the Sea Poppy

he found himself suddenly moved with an intense desire to live in

the sea; wherefore he was made a sea-god by Oceanus and Tethys.

Borlase says: That in the Scilly Islands the root of the Sea Poppy is

so much valued for removing all pains in the breast, stomach, and

intestines, as well as so good for disordered lungs, whilst so much

better there than in other places, that the apothecaries of Cornwall

send thither for it; and some persons plant these roots in their

gardens in Cornwall, and will not part with them under sixpence a

root. The scarlet petals of the wild Poppy, very abundant in English

cornfields, when treated with sulphuric acid make a splendid red

dye. With gorgeous tapestry cut from these crimson petals, the

clever drapery bee (Apis papaveris) upholsters the walls of her

solitary cell. Bruised leaves of the wild, or the garden Poppy, if

applied to a part which has been stung by a bee or a wasp, will give

prompt relief.