Poppies were once wildflowers of Europe, Asia, North America and the Mediterranean. There are over 100 species and hundreds of hybrids.
Cultivated since ancient times they are surrounded in superstition and legend. Greeks associated the opium poppy with the god Hypnos, ruler of sleep. His son, Morpheus, is the source of the name morphine, a valuable pain-relieving extract of this poppy. Poppy seeds and flowers are often used in herbal medicines to aid sleep.
Sometimes the seeds are eaten or carried to attract luck and money. During Medieval times gilded poppy seed heads were worn as talismans to draw wealth and good fortune. Seeds, believed to have aphrodisiac qualities, were added to love sachets.
When herbal sorcerers wished to discover the answer to a question they would write it in blue ink on a piece of white paper. This was placed inside a poppy seed head and put beneath the bed pillow. The answer would appear in a dream.
Another legend, possibly inspired by one-to-many cups of soothing poppy seed tea, involved soaking poppy seed in wine for 15 days. The wine was drunk, while fasting for 5 days. Legend says this concoction will make you invisible at will, and certainly very relaxed!
Today poppies are grown for their splendid bright colours and hardy versatility. With planning poppies can be flowered nearly all year. Iceland poppies brighten gardens until baked by
summer heat. Opium and oriental poppies highlight spring and summer gardens.
Shirley and Flanders poppies can be flowered almost all year with spring and summer being best. All make good cut flowers provided the tips of the cut stems are plunged into very hot water for a few minutes Immediately after picking. Cut stems as the bud heads rise.
The bud case should have split, revealing the internal petal colour. Once stamens have been pollinated flowers will not last. Seed can still be started in sheltered spots or under glass for late spring and summer flowers.
Choose a fine, light, well-draining, sterilized mix. Sprinkle the seed thinly and evenly over
trays or individual pots then cover lightly with soil. Keep warm and moist with good air circulation. Advanced seedlings planted now will bloom a little earlier.
Transplant carefully on a cool, cloudy, damp day. Liquid feed especially as buds develop.