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Poppy Seeds

Poppy Seeds are a very good source of calcium, and also great coolants. Containing opium, it is cultivated for its therapeutic value and also used as a condiment or additive to bakes in some cultures.

A native of Asia Minor, the poppy plant has been used for cooking and as a valuable medicinal source (opium is a very useful drug and has been prized for its properties for centuries, across continents). It was known to the Greeks and through spice trade as well as expedition routes, reached ancient Asian regions of China and India by the seventh century. Today, Greece is no longer the home of poppy cultivation. The onus in Asia has been lifted by India, China and some Areas of Asia Minor, like the Balkans. In India poppy cultivation happens on the Himalayan foothills and the low lying hills alongside, making the Northern sub- Himalayan plain one of the richest areas for opium manufacture (which is not all positive).

Poppy seeds, for reasons that lie buried in antiquity, have symbolized honor down centuries. In the second century, poppy was cultivated for opium, and Hippocrates, as a physician, advocated the use of opium in medicine. In medieval times, Europeans used poppy seeds as a condiment for baking breads with. Till the sixth century, the Islamic and Arab cultures used opium as a narcotic, and even to this day many Middle Eastern countries use opium as a narcotic, not to speak of ancient Asian cultures. India and China too, have a large number of users of opium, in its drug form. This led to its great demand for drug users and by the nineteenth century, Europeans were trafficking in opium as a profitable business proposition. This trade ended in the Opium Wars, in which European control over the opium industry in Asia was established and Chinese domination was routed.

Holland and Canada are today, one of the world’s leaders in production of poppy seeds, mainly because they are flower producing countries, but the consumption of poppy seeds as a spice or eatable would be very minimal in these cultures, except, perhaps as a condiment and additive in baked delicacies.

As far as cultivation is concerned, the farming of poppy plant is not an easy task. To begin with, there are about 900,000 seeds in one pound of the product, tiny, sometimes round and golden and at others, kidney shaped and slate blue in color. The Egyptians cultivated them for oil back in 1500 BC, when their medicinal properties were not so well known as the fact that they produce very light, nutty flavored, pale golden colored oil.
In modern cuisine, poppy seeds are found mostly as salad dressings and on baked products like bread and muffins. When used for cooking, they give a nutty flavor and a crunchy feel to the dish, especially if they are roasted and crushed prior to usage.

In their cuisine usage, poppy seeds are extensively used in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine, specially Indian, Moghlai and North West Indian cuisine. In Eastern India, where poppy seeds are grown a plenty, there are many delectable curries made with poppy seeds paste. Since they are considered to have high cooling properties, their usage is believed to relive digestive disorders, and the husk, when ground with the seeds, is a great cleanser for the system too.

The poppy seed contains extensive quantities of calcium, almost 1584 grams percent as well as phosphorus -432 grams per cent. It is very good food for lactating and pregnant mothers, for all its nutritive contents. In addition, it also contains a very high percentage of protein, in the form of globulin. This has an amino acid makeup similar to whole seed protein. In addition, these seeds contain 50% edible oil and many cultures (including ancient Egyptians), extract it for usage.

Poppy seeds have a large number of medicinal usages. However, none of its medicinal forms should be taken for more than three days in a row. Being a powerful narcotic, it might induce symptoms of addiction.

One of the best known usages of poppy seeds is as a cure for insomnia, sleeplessness. All one needs to do is take a teaspoon full of poppy seed oil every night at bedtime. Alternatively, about two tablespoons of milk extracted from poppy seeds can be mixed with sugar and had at bedtime, to induce a cure for insomnia. It is probably an effective relaxant but its narcotic properties could also be one reason for it being such a good remedy for sleeplessness.

Another condition where poppy seeds make an effective cure is dysentery. About a quarter teaspoon of poppy seeds roasted to brown, and then mixed with honey and taken twice a day effectively relieves the symptoms of dysentery as well as control dehydration.

In tropical countries, poppy seeds also serve to relieve skin conditions like the dry itch. Ground to a paste with lime juice, they are an effective remedy for the dry itch.

These are just a few of the usages that poppy seeds find in traditional medicine. However, its taste as a condiment is good enough a reason to stock poppy seeds in one’s kitchen cupboard.
By Kanika Goswami

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