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Growing the Opium Poppy (Papaver Somniferum)

Strains of Papaver Somniferous

There are many different strains of papaver somniferum. They vary in growth rate, flower color, pod size, alkaloid content, and about every other aspect you can imagine. Papaver somniferum seeds are commonly used as a spice. McCormick’s Poppy Seeds, sold as a spice, are an easy and cheap source of viable papaver somniferum seeds. However controversy exists if McCormick’s Seeds are a good variety to use if you are growing for the alkaloids they produce. When choosing a strain of papaver somniferum, it is recommended to research what strain is most ideal for all aspects in where they are to grow. If one is able, get several strains and see what ones grow best in the garden.

Soil

Before one goes about germinating the seeds, they will want to put them in a soil in which they can not only survive, but flourish. Papaver somniferum thrives in loose sandy, well draining soil. They can survive in different soil, but they may not grow as well. Avoid compact soil. Compact soil often has high levels of clay and do not drain well, and also may make it difficult for the plant to get a large root system. A large root system is important to grow large papaver somniferum plants, since it will allow the plant to get high amounts of water and nutrients. The pH of the soil can vary, but it is believed that near neutral is ideal.

When to Plant

Papaver somniferum grows best at cool temperatures. It is best to plant the seeds in the fall, winter, or early spring.

Germination

Papaver somniferum seeds germinate very easily. Tossing them on the soil, and gently covering them with a small amount of soil or sand works well. If they are kept moist, the bulk of the seeds should germinate with in several days. It is important that they are not in a soil, or watered so much that it encourages damp off. If one attempts to start growing papaver somniferum in the heat of mid summer, they will find it is relatively difficult to get past a small sprout with only a few true leafs.

Maintaining

Once the plants are well established in their garden, they must be maintained. Fertilizing, Watering, and ensuring they get adequate sunlight is important. The plants should be maintained until harvest.

Harvest

There are many ways of getting a harvest from papaver somniferum. One can make a small incision into the pod two or three weeks after the last petal has fallen from the pod. Cutting the pod will allow for latex to flow out onto the surface, and will dry with sufficient time. Scraping away the dried latex, or opium will allow you to make more small cuts on the pod, allowing for more opium to be harvested. Once you are done collecting the opium, the pods can be taken , dried, and brewed into a tea. extracted. Often the tea is thought to be very distasteful, so to avoid the horrible taste an extraction can be preformed to get more alkaloids.

Extraction and Purification

Purifying the alkaloids from the opium, or the pods from papaver somniferum is an easy task if you understand what you are doing, and have the required equipment. Luckily the concepts are not too hard, nor the equipment rare. Below is the United States Patent 6,054,584 which describes how to extract morphine and other alkaloids from opium.

Adjusting pH levels

The pH level of any soil can be adjusted by adding acids or bases. Acids such as aluminum sulfate will decrease pH levels. Bases such as lime or ash will increase pH levels. Remember, near neutral is favored.


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