Opium Poppy
Papaver somniferum

The Opium poppy, also known as mawseed and the herb of joy, grows to a height of around three feet. It is a hardy annual which flowers during the summer months and sheds its seeds in Autumn. Its flowers range in colour from white to purple and any shade of red or pink in between. It is native to South-East Europe and Western Asia and grows in cultivation or a wild state. It is the only species of its genus to produce opium, and was cultivated in the ancient civilisations of Persia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Representations of both the Greek and Roman Gods of Sleep, depict them carrying or wearing poppies and images of them appear in Egyptian pictography and Roman sculpture. Archaeological evidence along with fossilised poppy seeds suggest that Neanderthal man may have used the opium poppy some thirty thousand years ago. Fossil remains of poppy-seed cake and poppy-pods found in Neolithic Swiss lake-dwellings determine they were used over 4,000 years ago. Medicines produced from opium poppies include morphine and codeine which means that its cultivation and production is strictly controlled for opium poppies are also used to make illegal and highly addictive drugs such as heroin.