Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Poppy

Prairial 18

The flower of the day in the French Republican calendar is the Poppy (Pavot in French).

I grew poppies in my garden for a few years. I loved the dry seed heads, their shape and color and the way they become natural pepper shakers. I always intended to do something arty with them (like gild them a la Martha Stewart). But the foliage was so messy and the flower so transitory that I decided they weren't worth the effort. Instead I've been concentrating on flowers with fragrance and flowers I can bring indoors.

But Laura Martin writes that poppies do make good cut flowers if you cut full buds with straight stems in the evening and submerge them up to their necks in hot water.

Martin says that the ancient Egyptians used poppies in funeral rituals while the ancient Greeks thought of poppies as signs of fertility (perhaps because of the profligate way it sows its seeds). Poppy seeds were used as a love charm and as a seasoning for bread and drinks.

The poppy is sacred to Diana, and Ceres, the grain goddess, perhaps because they grow in fields with the wheat. A Greek legend says that the gods took pity on Ceres when she was wandering the world looking for her daughter and caused the poppy to spring up in her footsteps so she could rest. As the source of opium, it provides relief from pain.

Which is the poppy's dark side. I'm always surprised more people don't harvest opium from the poppies in our community garden which is right in the middle of a relatively active drug dealing neighborhood. On my way from the garden to my work, I pass a fast food restaurant where I've twice seen police removing the body of someone who died of an overdose in the bathrooms. And when I walk down the neighboring street, I often think of Curt Cobain who almost died in a car on this street after scoring some heroin nearby.

For a thorough discussion of the history and medicinal uses of the poppy plant, go to my favorite web site for botanical information:

In my garden, the California poppies have sowed themselves and are making bright splashes of orange. They fold up at night like butterflies.

Martin, Laura, Garden Flower Folklore, Globe Pequot Press 1987

The picture of the poppy comes from

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