Um … opium?

So, I ordered some seeds from Renee’s Garden Seeds in the spring, for a variety of poppy called ‘Heirloom Pepperbox.’ The draw, besides the word “heirloom,” which I’m always a complete sucker for, is that you can get poppy seeds from these poppies. (The sketch also showed a very pretty single poppy in shades of red, pink and purple, like the photo above.) I adore poppy seeds and envisioned myself making yeast breads from scratch and adorning them with my homegrown poppy seeds.

My ‘Pepperboxes’ are right on the verge of blooming–the buds are full and round and drooping on fragile stems. The stems and leaves are an interesting shade of pale gray-green. I think I’m going to love these poppies–IF they ever bloom. Those teasing buds have kept me waiting and waiting … for so long that today, out of curiosity, I looked “poppy seed” up on Wikipedia and discovered … that poppy seeds come from opium poppies.

Already I hear police sirens in the distance.

The Renee’s listing makes no mention of this alternate use for ‘Pepperbox.’ It just so happens I’m the owner of a 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica that has extremely detailed instructions on how to extract opium from opium poppies and then refine it into heroin. (Those Brits. They did love to share valuable knowledge. There are even lots of helpful photos.) So I’m wondering, just idly, not actually with any criminal intent–could I get opium from my poppy pods?

I remember reading a news clipping years ago about a grandmother in Oregon who was prosecuted by police for growing opium poppies. Her defense was that they were simply an heirloom variety she’d been growing, and saving seed from, for decades. I can’t remember what became of her. But if this blog ends abruptly, scan the local papers for news about a law-abiding citizen who was caught growing opium poppies in her backyard!

Photo by Alvesgaspar licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.



  1. Marcia said,

    June 16, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Well then, you can bond with the unsavory neighborhood types. My mom grew poppies too. They were bright red .She managed to stay out of jail. Lol

  2. Tai said,

    February 23, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Oh thats awsome you love poppies as much as I do!! I started some of Reene’s hierloom pepperbox poppies last Nov. they sprouted and grew even through some 25 degree mornings ! Now it’s aproching march and i’m just waiting for them to bolt& grow stems and bud’s then I get to wait some more to see the color…. Mine have lots of bristles on the leaf edge’s and underside margins? they are also rather dark green for P, somnifurms. I thinke they could actualy be P. sitegerum? any way just woundering if your pepperbox also had hairs / bristels on leaves and flower buds? I know true somnifurms are hairless for the most part… P.sitegerums on the other hand are quite bristley? any feedback an your experiance would be greatly apreciated ! Happy spring!! sorry bout the typo’s…

    • mshingston said,

      February 24, 2013 at 2:29 am

      As I recall, mine were hairless, with very smooth gray-green foliage and buds. But with old varieties like these, I think there’s a lot of variation. Whatever yours are, they’re poppies, so you’re in for a treat!

  3. Tai said,

    February 24, 2013 at 2:37 am

    Thanks ! I”m exited to see how they turn out! the seeds I planted were nice size blue slate and some darker but veary much the type you would see on baked goods ..

  4. tasman816357492 said,

    October 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Your Pepperbox poppies are no heirloom, they are from a breeding project out of Hungary to produce low alkaloid content Papaver hybrids to be used in the culinary industry, the odd one my have some measurable alkaloid content, but most will contain no measurable alkaloids. Cultivars Przmeko, Orias-kek, and Libra were hybridized together into F1’s and then taken to at least the F3 stage or beyond while selecting for low alkaloids at each stage of breeding. Other notable Papaver cultivars with low alkaloid content can be found such as Norman(top1 from Tasmania), Przmeko(Hungarian Blue), Soma, and Sujata(India). Some of these cultivars may have high levels of thebaine as opposed opium related alkaloids. Thebaine is known to cause necrotic lesions and damage to the skin, lungs, or blood veins when used as an opium substitute with no euphoria or pain killing qualities. Make sure to only harvest seed or pods for flower arrangements and not sap or poppy straw from these types. If the police do harass you about the poppies inform them that they are low alkaloid types and that it is not illegal to grow any Papaver species even high alkaloid types unless you are seen to be harvesting them for drug production. Although if you are a resident of North Carolina it would be best not to press the issue as special laws have been passed in that state against the cultivation of Papaver somniferum of any type.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: