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David Watson Hood, visual artist.
The images for: poppy 1, poppy 2
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Poppies: Papaver dubium L. Long smooth headed poppy, Crom-lus (Bent Weed), Fad-cheannach, Fothros (corn rose), Meilbheag/beilbheag (a little pestle-capsule), Paipean ruadh (red pap), Poppy.
Papaver rhoeas L. Blavers, Cock's Comb, Cock's Head, Cock-rose, Cockeno, Collinhood, Common Poppy, Flander's Poppy, Cromlus (Bent Weed), Fothros (Corn Rose), Meilbheag (a little pestle), Paipean ruadh (red pap), Thundercup, Thunderflower.


poppy Papaver rhoeas L.
Poppies were the ubiquitous plants of most cornfields from the very beginning of agriculture up to the recent invention of herbicides.

At the dawn of the Neolithic age, the beginning of the end for the hunter-gatherer, a blood red tide of flowers slowly flowed westward and northward across Europe from the Middle East and Asia Minor. The tiny poppy seed inseparably mixed with the traded seed corn. It was a fitting omen of things to come and the gods' symbol of the future costs of corn. For from then till now the harvest is regularly fertilised with the sacrificial blood of young men and what we now call collateral casualties.

For with the new economic strategy of agriculture came the new economic strategy of war, the commercial industry of fighting, with invasion seen as an investment opportunity. Also a part of the package was the new dominant hierarchical social model that we still use. From the well rewarded commander in chief or high priest at the top, down to the grunt, at the bottom, whose main incentives are avoiding the punishments set for disobedience, and the promise of rewards for compliance in some future state, heaven or a lottery win, after the hell he has lived on Earth.

Papaver dubium and hover flyOur religious constructs changed too. From the Eleusinian Mysteries to Christianity, the cereal farmers' 'John Barleycorn' concept of sacrifice, death and resurrection permeated human thought. The concepts of unthinking submission and obedience to power were given new divine justifications and human leaders an ever greater status as the divine proxies. The sanctioned or justified killer as hero became the principle protagonist of our stories. Actual human life expectancy slumped as nutritional deficiencies (a result of the more restricted diet) and diseases of overcrowding decimated the new settled communities.

So why did we do it? Well human lives were shorter and grimmer but, there were many more of them per hectare, the full granary fosters the delusion of security and of course the rich got richer, and with their wealth bought themselves the most enjoyable aspects of the hunters' lifestyle. Those reluctant to change would have found like the Bison hunters of the American plains, the Kalahari bushmen and all those Scottish poachers memorialised in song, transported to Van Diemen's Land, that having neighbours who hold the agrarian concepts of property and class is not conducive to a peaceful co-existence between Esau and Jacob. Those Esaus who would not sell their birthright for a mess of potage usually lost it in a more painful manner.

The goddess Demeter had a last backhanded consolation prize to give, another poppy Papaver somniferum L, to give us opium and morphine to ease the agonies of the end results of our choices.

Non-medical uses of poppies
Both plants are toxic to mammals, though the toxicity is low. The seed is not toxic
Papaver rhoeas: The oil, extracted from the seeds, is used by artists as a medium for colours that will be badly affected by the greater yellowing of linseed oil and as a siccative to hasten drying.
Seed - raw or cooked. Is much used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, fruit salads etc. The seeds are rather small, but they are contained in fairly large seed pods and so are easy to harvest. The seeds are perfectly safe to eat, containing none of the alkaloids associated with other parts of the plant. Leaves - raw or cooked, can be used like spinach or as a flavouring in soups and salads. The leaves should not be used after the flower buds have formed. Some caution is advised, see the note above on toxicity. An edible oil is obtained from the seed. Said to be an excellent substitute for olive oil, it can be used in salad dressings or for cooking. A syrup can be prepared from the scarlet flower petals, it is used in soups, gruels etc. A red dye from the petals is used as a food flavouring, especially in wine.
A red dye is obtained from the flowers, though it is very fugitive. A syrup made from the petals has been used as a colouring matter for old inks also very fugitive. The petals are used to add colour to pot-pourri.

Medicinal uses of poppies
Papaver rhoeas
Anodyne, Cancer, Emmenagogue, Emollient, Expectorant, Hypnotic, Sedative, Tonic.
Definitons of medical actions

The flowers of corn poppy have a long history of medicinal usage, especially for ailments in the elderly and children. Chiefly employed as a mild pain reliever and as a treatment for irritable coughs, it also helps to reduce nervous over-activity. Unlike the related opium poppy (P. somniferum) it is thought to be non-addictive. However, the plant does contain alkaloids, which are still under investigation, and so should only be used under the supervision of a qualified herbalist. The flowers and petals are anodyne, emollient, emmenagogue, expectorant, hypnotic, slightly narcotic and sedative. An infusion is taken internally in the treatment of bronchial complaints and coughs, insomnia, poor digestion, nervous digestive disorders and minor painful conditions. The flowers are also used in the treatment of jaundice. The petals are harvested as the flowers open and are dried for later use. They should be collected on a dry day and can be dried or made into a syrup. The latex in the seedpods is narcotic and slightly sedative. It can be used in very small quantities, and under expert supervision, as a sleep-inducing drug. The leaves and seeds are tonic. They are useful in the treatment of low fevers. The plant has been suggested as having anticancer properties.

Papaver dubium
Diaphoretic.
The plant is sudorific, I suspect the plant also has similar actions to P. rhoeas but I cannot find the references to support this (folk taxonomy often does not distinguish between these two species).

Sources:
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html,
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/, Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe.
The Really WILD Food Guide, www.countrylovers.co.uk/wildfoodjj/index.htm

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