Habitat & Cultivation : Indigenous to western Asia, the opium poppy is presently grown globally for commercial purposes, serving as the primary source of morphine and codeine. Unfortunately, it is also illicitly cultivated for the production of opium and heroin. In the summer season, the seed capsules are harvested, and the ensuing white latex is collected the following day before being subjected to drying processes.
Part Used : Latex.
Constituents : The opium poppy is rich in over 40 opium alkaloids, with significant percentages including morphine (up to 20%), narcotine (approximately 5%), codeine (around 1%), and papaverine (about 1%). Other components found in opium poppy encompass meconic acid, albumin, mucilage, sugars, resin, and wax. Several alkaloids present in the opium poppy exhibit established therapeutic properties. Notably, morphine stands out as a potent analgesic widely used in conventional medicine to alleviate pain, especially in cases of terminal illness. Codeine, a milder analgesic, finds application in treating headaches, other types of pain, and the symptomatic relief of diarrhea. It’s crucial to acknowledge opium’s well-established highly addictive nature.
History & Folklore : Having been cultivated for its medicinal attributes for over 4,000 years, the opium poppy found its way to Greece approximately 3,000 years ago and subsequently disseminated across Europe. Notably absent in China until the 7th century CE and in Japan until the 15th century, its mention can be traced back to Assyrian herbals around 1700 BCE. The renowned Greek physician Dioscorides (40-90 CE) documented its uses, stating that a decoction of the leaves and flowerheads, when consumed and applied to the head, is unparalleled in inducing sleep. Furthermore, Dioscorides noted that a mixture of mashed heads with flour serves as a valuable plaster for inflammations and conditions like St. Anthony’s fire (erysipelas), a bacterial skin infection.
Medicinal Actions & Uses : Opium, derived from the dried latex, is recognized as a potent narcotic, analgesic, and antispasmodic agent, historically employed to alleviate various types of pain. Across major herbal traditions, it is consistently acknowledged as a robust “cold” remedy, diminishing physical function while sedating or suppressing nervous activity, pain, and coughs. Due to its well-established addictive nature, opium is typically reserved for use when other less potent analgesics have proven ineffective in providing relief. Additionally, opium serves as an effective remedy for acute diarrhea and severe coughs. Noteworthy pharmaceutical drugs derived from the opium poppy include morphine and codeine.
Research : Much research has been done, confirming most of the uses of opium poppy listed above.