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Poppy Seeds:


In 1997 Michael Pollan, a seemingly gentle natured gardener, published an article in Harpers entitled, “Opium Made Easy.” A regular contributor to the magazine, Mr. Pollan reviewed the status of the poppy plant. Pollan destroyed a cleverly crafted myth; he pointed out that poppy plants that are grown in foreign places to make opium are no different from the ornamental ones we grow in our gardens. Pollan pointed out that a poppy is a poppy and that there was no difference. Knowing this put every American gardener into a difficult situation with the Drug Enforcement Agencies of the US government. Although Pollan has written several excellent books ( Second Garden and the Botany of Desire are among my favorites) this article may be his most famous piece of writing. The article is also notable for reprinting a recipe for poppy tea. You can still read it online at Pollan's website:



I was prompted to read about poppy and especially poppy seeds today because we've reached that time of the year when I climb to the upper kitchen storage cupboard to find our poppy seed grinder. Poppy seeds are the classic filling for Hamantaschen, the triangular pastries made to celebrate the holiday of Purim. We like to make the filling from scratch.


Poppy plants have been grown for food and recreation from ancient times. Archaeologists suggest that people have been cultivating poppies for at least 70,000 years. To put this in perspective, people have cultivated grains and domesticated animals for less than 10,000 years.


Poppy are most noted for the psychoactive agents contained in their latex from which we can manufacture opium, morphine, heroine and codeine. One can argue that they are also nutritious, high in polyunsaturated fats and high quality protein. Research suggests that chemicals in poppy seeds are protective against cancer development. [i] [ii] But let's not dwell too long looking for benefits. These studies are not new and the results demonstrated were not as striking as seen from other plants; poppy seeds present a problem in our modern world. Although one can not get high from poppy seeds, they don't have the right alkaloids to do the trick, they do contain enough of certain chemicals to trigger positive results on urine drug screens. And it doesn't take much; a poppy seed bagel can get you into unwanted trouble. [iii]


As I bite into the first poppy filled Hamantaschen still warm from the oven, I'm happy we don't undergo mandatory drug screens at our office. It is almost an obligation to to savor and find pleasure in a taste that people have experienced from so far in our ancient past.  Although one doesn't get high from poppy seeds, eat enough and you will see one of the side effects of opiates, they are constipating. This is probably why it is also traditional to fill some of the Hamantaschen with a filling made of mashed prunes. Things balance out that way.



Recipe for Hamantaschen


½ cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tbsp. milk

vanilla or lemon extract


Cream butter and sugar, and add egg. Sift flour and baking powder together and add a little to creamed mixture. Add milk, then remaining flour. Mix in flavoring. Roll dough out 1/8 to ¼ inch (2.5 to 5 mm) thick. Cut into rounds, dot each with a spoonful of filling (see below), form into triangles, and bake at 375 degrees (190 C) for 15 to 30 minutes until delicately browned.


Poppy Seed Filling

1 cup poppy seed

1 cup milk

1 oz. butter

2 tbsp. honey

1 tart apple, grated


Bring poppy seed and milk to boil, add butter and honey, and boil until thick. Cool, then add grated apple.


Prune Filling

1 lb. prunes, pitted

1 cup raisins

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon rind, grated

½ cup sugar

1 tbsp. honey


Soak prunes for two hours in hot water. Drain. Chop prunes and raisins. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.




Food Chem Toxicol. 1992 Nov;30(11):953-6.

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Anticarcinogenic effects of some Indian plant products.

Aruna K , Sivaramakrishnan VM .

Isotope Division, Cancer Institute, Adyar,
Madras , India .

The anticarcinogenic properties of some commonly consumed spices and leafy vegetables were investigated. The effects of feeding the plant products on the induction of squamous cell carcinomas in the stomachs of Swiss mice by feeding benzo[a]pyrene(B[a]P) and on the induction of hepatomas in Wistar rats by feeding 3'-methyl-4-dimethylaminoazobenzene (3'MeDAB) were investigated. Among the nine plant products tested, cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum Linn) and basil leaves (Ocimum sanctum Linn) significantly decreased the incidence of both B[a]P-induced neoplasia and 3'MeDAB-induced hepatomas. Poppy seeds (Papaver somniferum Linn) significantly inhibited B[a]P-induced neoplasia alone, while the other plant products, asafoetida, kandathipili, turmeric, drumstick leaves, solanum leaves and alternanthera leaves were ineffective. These results suggest that cumin seeds, basil leaves and to a lesser extent poppy seeds, which are all widely used in Indian cooking, may prove to be valuable anticarcinogenic agents.

PMID: 1473788 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]



Indian J Exp Biol. 1990 Nov;28(11):1008-11.

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Plant products as protective agents against cancer.

Aruna K , Sivaramakrishnan VM .

Isotope Division, Cancer Institute,
Madras , India .

Out of various spices and leafy vegetables screened for their influence on the carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme, glutathione-S-transferase (GST) in Swiss mice, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, asafoetida, turmeric, kandathipili, neem flowers, manathakkali leaves, drumstick leaves, basil leaves and ponnakanni leaves increased GST activity by more than 78% in the stomach, liver and oesophagus, - high enough to be considered as protective agents against carcinogenesis. Glutathione levels were also significantly elevated in the three tissues by these plant products. All of them except neem flowers, significantly suppressed (in vivo) the chromosome aberrations (CA) caused by benzo(a)pyrene in mouse bone marrow cells. Multiple CA and exchanges reflecting the severity of damage within a cell were significantly suppressed by these nine plant products. The results suggest that these nine plant products are likely to suppress carcinogenesis and can act as protective agents against cancer.



Forensic Sci Int. 2004 Jul 16;143(2-3):183-6.

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Poppy seed consumption and toxicological analysis of blood and urine samples.

Moeller MR , Hammer K , Engel O .

Institute of Legal Medicine,
Saarland University , D-66421 Homburg/Saar, Germany . manfred.moeller@uniklinik-saarland.de

Poppy seeds contain morphine in different amounts. Reported concentrations are up to 294 mg morphine/kg poppy seeds. Since penalties based on Street Traffic Law (parapgraph 24a StVG) in Germany (administrative offence) require definitive proof of morphine in blood samples, and the "Grenzwertkommission" in consultation with the Ministry of Transportation recommended a threshold of free morphine of 10 ng/mL, the question arose whether the consumption of poppy seeds can lead to a blood concentrations equal or higher than 10 ng/mL of free morphine. Therefore, five volunteers ate poppy seed products (50 mg morphine/kg poppy seeds). In urine, all on-site tests were enzyme immunologically positive for opiates and were positive to morphine by GC/MS. All the blood samples were negative to morphine by EIA and to free morphine by GC/MS. However, after hydrolysis, morphine was detected by GC/MS in all cases. Accordingly, in
Germany , penalties based on parapgraph 24a StVG are not likely to cause road users any concerns should they have consumed poppy seeds. Driver Licensing Authorities, however, should be advised of this problem to avoid unjustified legal measures.


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