phytochemicals Phytochemicals

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Opium Poppy

Opium Poppy

Papaver somniferum

What is opium poppy?

Opium poppy is an erect, annual herb growing up to 1.5 meter. The leaves are light grey-green and hairless. The typical flowers can have many colours: ranging from white, to purple and red. All parts of the opium poppy plant contain small vessels filled with white latex. The typical capsules vary in shape and size, but they are usually hemispherical and flat at the top. The dark seeds are very small and kidney shaped.

Parts used

The dried latex is obtained from the unripe fruit, by making shallow cuts. The white latex that flows out soon turns brown. This brown latex is collected and dried. The seeds which are formed in ripe opium poppy fruits have no therapeutic properties.


These are typical phytochemicals found in opium poppy: opium poppy contains many isoquiline alkaloids. the most important phytochemicals are morphine, noscapine and codeine. other alkaloids are thebaine, narceine, papaverine, codamine and rhoeadine., .

Benefits of opium poppy

Opium poppy has hypnotic, stimulant, analgesic, sedative, astringent, antitussive and diaphoretic properties. Opium poppy powder or extract is not much used anymore, instead the pure chemicals such as morphine, noscapine and codeine are used.

Hypnotic properties
Morphine from opium poppy is a strong hypnotic and sedative. Morphine works by modulating endorphine receptors. Morphine is a strong stimulant, inducing euphoria and eliminating anxieties and inhibitions. The use of morphine often leads to addiction.

Morphine is often used by doctors as a very effective painkiller. Morphine blocks the pain messages in sensory nerve cells of the cerebrum. Codeine works also a painkiller but to a lesser extent. Codeine is mostly used in combination with aspirin to relieve minor pains.

The sedative and antispasmodic properties of codeine explains why opium poppy is used in cough syrups. Codeine surpresses the cough reflex and has antitussive activity.

Other facts

The opium poppy is indigenous to South-western Asia. Opium poppy is cultivated in many countries in Europe, Turkey, Persia, India and China. The word opium is derived from the Greek word opos, meaning juice. The drug opium was already used in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans. When the opium fruit ripens it no longer contains active components. The seeds inside can then be eaten without any ill effects. These seeds are often sprinkled on bread rolls.

Other names

White poppy, mawseed, papaver

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