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Papaveris Capsulae.—Poppy Capsules.

Botanical name:

Preparations: Decoction of Poppies - Extract of Poppy
Related entries: Rhoeados Petala.—Red-Poppy Petals - Opium (U. S. P.)—Opium

The nearly ripe capsules of Papaver somniferum, Linné.
Nat. Ord.—Papaveraceae.
SYNONYMS: Papaver (U. S. P., 1870), Fructus papaveris, Poppy-heads.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 18.

Botanical Source and History.—The poppy is an annual plant with a tapering and white root. The stem is round, erect, smooth, with occasionally a few hairs on its upper part, glaucous, branched, leafy, and from 2 to 4 or 5 feet in height. The leaves are alternate, 4 to 8 inches in length, 2 or 3 inches broad, amplexicaul, slashed, repand, with rather blunt teeth, sessile, ovate-oblong, and glaucous beneath. The flowers are large, brilliantly white or silvery gray, double by cultivation, on long, terminal, leafless peduncles, with bristly hairs. The calyx consists of 2 smooth, convex, deciduous sepals. The corolla is composed of 4 petals, very large, sometimes with a deep purple spot at the base. Stamens numerous; anthers oblong and compressed; style, 1; stigmas, 4 to 20, radiating, and sessile upon the crown of the nearly globular ovary. The capsules are obovate or globose, smooth, about the size of a middling apple, rather hard and brittle, 1-celled, opening by pores beneath the lobes of the stigma, and filled with numerous parietal placentae. Placentae many-seeded. The seeds are reniform, oily, white, or gray, sweet, and edible (L.—W.).

Formerly, distinction was made between the black and the white variety of poppy, based on the color of the seeds, and to some extent on that of the petals, those of the latter variety being white, of the former violet or red. Cultivation has produced grades intermediate between these varieties sometimes difficult to distinguish. Boissier (1867) established three well-marked varieties, viz: (1) Papaver somniferum, Linné, var. setigerum (Papaver setigerum of De Candolle). This is the wild variety of poppy, beset with long, stiff bristles; leaves acutely toothed; 7 to 8 stigmas. This variety occurs in the Peloponnesus, Corsica, Cyprus, and the Hières Islands; (2) P. somniferum, var. glabrum, smooth, with subglobular capsule and from 10 to 12 stigmas, cultivated in Asia Minor and Egypt (see Opium); and (3) P. somniferum, var. album (Papaver officinale of Gmelin), with more or less egg-shaped capsules devoid of apertures; it is cultivated in Persia (see Pharmacographia).

The white poppy is considered the official variety; it is probably a native of Persia, but is also extensively cultivated in many of the warmer parts of the world. In Asia the flowering season is in February; in this country and Europe it is during the months of June, July, and August; the official parts of the plant are the capsules, and opium, or the concrete juice from the capsules (see Opium); the seeds are employed for obtaining their fatty oil (see page 1434 (= two paragraphs down)).

Description.—PAPAVERIS CAPSULAE. The capsules of the poppy, or poppy-heads should always be gathered before they have ripened, at this time they abound in the juice from which opium is formed, and which becomes greatly diminished when the capsule has fully matured. When dried, the unripe capsules possess the peculiar bitterness and narcotic qualities of opium, which are hardly observable in those that are allowed to ripen. The dried capsules are of various sizes, from that of a small egg to that of a large orange; they are of an ovate or globular form, flattened underneath, and surmounted by the persistent stigma. The capsules of the white poppy are larger than those of the black. They owe their virtues entirely to the opium contained in them. The white capsules are usually devoid of apertures (indehiscent) under the crowning circular disk, generally oblong, though sometimes so depressed as to be broader than long. Some varieties have the lower end narrowed and prolonged. Where the fruit joins the stalk there is a tumid ring. The stigmas are peltate and sessile, from 8 to 20 in number, constituting sharp, angular ridges agreeing in number with the carpels. The placentae are also of the same number, projecting into the 1-celled interior so as to form incomplete partitions. On their faces and edges are borne the minute kidney-shaped seeds in immense numbers.

The black capsules are smaller, globular-ovate, broadest below, usually about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and exhibit underneath the circular disc of stigmas, the apertures (dehiscences) which allow the seeds to be shaken out.

SEMINA PAPAVERIS.—Poppy-seeds or Maw-seeds are very numerous, a single capsule containing many thousands. They are reniform, white, bluish, grayish, or blackish, finely net-veined, oleaginous and emulsive, and yield by expression nearly 50 per cent of a yellowish fixed oil (Oleum Papaveris, Oil of poppy-seeds). Sacc, in 1849, obtained about 55 per cent of oil from the seeds, with 23 per cent of mucilage and 12.6 per cent of protein matter. The oil is odorless, has a pleasant, mucilaginous, bland taste, is pale-yellow and transparent, and destitute of narcotic properties. It has a specific gravity of 0.925, and becomes solid at -18° C. (0° F.). It is soluble in 25 parts of cold and 6 parts of boiling alcohol, and in ether. Upon saponification it yields 91 per cent of glycerin. Upon exposure to the air for some time it easily dries, forming a varnish; it is therefore used by painters, also for culinary and for burning purposes, and as an adulterant of higher-priced oils, as olive oil. Its chief constituent, according to Hazura and Friedrich (1887), is the glyceride of cannabinoleic acid (C18H32O2).

Chemical Composition.—The largest quantity of opium alkaloids is formed in the plant at the time when the seeds begin to accumulate oil and albuminons matter. The alkaloids are distributed over all parts of the plant, except the seeds, which, when clean from adhering particles of the capsule, are absolutely free from alkaloids. Young plants do not contain them (Clautrian, Jahresb. der Pharm., 1889. p. 80). The unripe capsules contain the constituents of opium, only in a more diluted form; thus morphine is present to the extent of 1 to 2 per cent, and narcotine, codeine, rhoeadine, narceïne, and meconic acid in correspondingly less quantities. The capsules also contain ammonium salts, tartaric and citric acids, mineral acids, mucilage and wax (Deschamps d'Avallon, 1864). Ripe capsules dried at 100° C. (212° F.) yielded Flückiger 14.28 per cent of ash, chiefly consisting of chlorides and sulphates of alkali metals.

Action and Medical Uses.—Poppy-heads are occasionally used externally in fomentations, though both for topical and internal use they have been supplanted by opium and its preparations, which are now prepared of definite strengths.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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