The Cultivation of the Poppy in European Turkey.

Botanical name: 

The following is a translation of instructions as to the cultivation of the poppy and the method of extracting and preparing opium, which have been drawn up under the authority of the Turkish Government, and distributed throughout the agricultural districts of Macedonia, with a view to promote the development of the opium industry in that province:

"If we take into consideration the fact that poppy seed is capable of yielding 6 okes (22 ½ lbs.) (The figures between parentheses are inserted as approximately correct, ED. PH. J) of opium and 10 kilos of seed to every dunum (100 sq. metres) of land sown; that an oke of opium realizes 400 pias (£3 12s), and a kilogram of poppy seed 40 pias, and therefore that altogether a dunum of land sown with poppy seed may be worth as much as 2,640 pias (£23 15s); if at the same time we bear in mind that a dunum of land sown with wheat seed yields at most 10 kilos of wheat and 2,000 okes of straw, and that with wheat realizing 25 pias the kilogram, and with straw being only worth 30 pias per 200 okes, the total possible value of a dunum of land sown with wheat is 280 pias (£2 10s.), we see at once that in comparison with wheat and other similar products the cultivation of the opium poppy is a most lucrative industry.

"Seeing then how productive of wealth the cultivation of the opium poppy has been to the agricultural population of the sandjak of Broussa the following is a short treatise supplying information on this point.

"The Various Species of Poppy Seed and the Proper Season for Sowing.—Poppy seed is also sometimes styled 'Khashkash' seed. It is very small and it is of two kinds. One is white and the other is of a darker hue, both being contained within shells or pods, which are sometimes termed cocoons. These cocoons are globular in shape, and of the size of a Jerusalem artichoke, having on the upper side a roundish mark which is termed the 'comb.'

The darker-hued seed is of two species. The outer shells or cocoons of the first species are small, and may be distinguished by a row of small holes, through which, if great attention be not paid, as soon as the outer shells are fully matured and ready to receive the produce of the seed the latter drops and is lost. The flowers of this first species are generally of a red or purple hue. So also are the flowers of the second species; but the outer shells of the latter are larger and of an oval shape, and they have no holes in their combs.

"The white poppy seed is also of two kinds, of which though one is white the other is yellow. In other respects there is very little difference between these two kinds, both having large oval-shaped outer shells, with no holes under their combs, the flower, like the seed, being white. The opium extracted from this species of poppy is more abundant and of a superior quality to that which is the produce of the first-named species.

"Although in some localities the 'Khashkash' or poppy seed is sown, as a rule it is only utilized by yielding an oil which is extracted from it. From 100 okes (275 lbs.) of seed may be obtained a yield of 30 or 40 okes (82 ½ or 110 lbs.) of oil, which is of two kinds, of which one is obtained by first pounding the seed, then heating it and extracting the juice while the seed is still hot. This oil is used in Europe in the composition of water-color paint and oil paint, and is also burnt in lamps. It is also used in the manufacture of glass shades.

"The other kind of oil is obtained without heating the crushed seed, and having a pleasant taste, is used in the preparation of food.

"Arkara-Hissar Sahib ('Afion Kara Hissar').—The seed is first heated before the oil is extracted, which is then universally used by the inhabitants in the preparation of food.

"The oil extracted from the yellow poppy seed, like the opium so extracted, is of a superior quality to the others. In localities where there is no hoar frost in spring and autumn, poppy seed is sown from the mouth of September up to March; but in places where there is hoar frost the seed must without fail be sown in the month of September and in the spring after the chilly weather is passed. However, seeing that in most places there is hoar frost both in spring and autumn and that in spring, even in the month of April, there is usually some hoar frost, and that after the month of April seed time is already passed, in this country the seed should be sown in September, or at latest in the beginning of October; if the seed be sown at the season mentioned the yield both of opium and of poppy seed is more plentiful than if that operation be performed when the weather is chilly.

"Description of the Kind of Soil most suitable to the Poppy.—The poppy seed must be sown in light, rich and yielding soils. If it be sown in cold clayey soil or in damp localities the yield will be small and the opium of an inferior quality.

"Ground which is to be sown with poppy seed, of whatever kind it be (i. e., the seed), should be well-manured, sheep's dung being of course preferable. Experience has proved that if a field which has just yielded a crop of opium be immediately sown with wheat, the crop resulting from this last sowing will be remarkably good.

"The Method to be adopted in sowing and the necessary subsequent Treatment.—The soil of a field which is to be sown with poppy seed should be ploughed two or three times and well turned up. The seed should then be scattered about with the hand, just as flax seed is. After this the soil must be thoroughly stirred up and mixed by a rake or a row of bushes bound to the back of a barrow.

If 100 drachms (i. e., Turkish drachms) of poppy seed be sown on every dunum of land, or on such an extent of land as will take a kilogram of wheat seed, it is sufficient. As soon as ever the young poppy plants begin to appear above the surface of the soil and to bear three or four leaves, in those places where they are too close together they must be taken up and planted again in such a manner as to leave a space of a span between each plant. In order to remove any weeds that may make their appearance in these spaces the soil must be hoed once or twice. This use of the hoe must never be omitted, for if there be many weeds in the field they stunt the proper and healthy growth of the plants, and cause a considerable diminution in the amount of the crop. Moreover, if the seeds of such weeds remain in the soil it becomes subsequently impossible to rid the field altogether of them.

"The course of treatment to be observed at Harvest Time.—Opium, being a substance which is extracted from the pods or outer shells described above, as soon as these pods become green in color and have reached their full growth the green hue changes to yellow. A few days before this change of color takes place there forms over the pods a very thin watery film of a light-green hue, though somewhat indistinct in appearance. This film is called 'cougak.' If it be wiped away with the finger its place remains quite visible. If at about this, time the pod be squeezed between the thumb and forefinger, it becomes so far strengthened that it cannot be easily crushed. It is then that the juice which forms the opium must be gathered.

"In order to gather the juice or paste, the first step is to take a knife, made especially for this purpose, being small and as sharp-pointed as, the end of a penknife, and with it to cut a semi-circular line in the pod beginning from the middle and going round the edges, at the same time leaving a space of about a finger's breadth. Immediately after this is done there appears a white milk-like fluid of a bitter taste, and there forms. This fluid little by little increases in consistency, and its color becomes darker and darker, until in twenty-four hours it becomes coffee-colored and as thick as paste. This is opium. This must be scraped off with the edge of a somewhat large and blunt knife and put into a poppy leaf, and so on until as much as 20 or 30 drachms of opium have been collected on one leaf, the edges of which must be turned in so as to prevent its being spilled. If, while the opium is being collected, the film above described be mixed with it, it has a beneficial effect.

"At Karahissar the work of cutting lines in the pods of the poppies is generally begun early in the afternoon and continued until nightfall. As the opium must be collected twenty-four hours after the above operation has been concluded, the following day also, soon after twelve o'clock, they begin on the one hand to collect the opium from the pods which were cut the day before, and also to cut lines in other pods, which work occupies them until the evening. But should they come across pods which are not quite ripe, they leave them alone, and five or six days afterwards they again visit them, and after cutting lines in them collect their juice.

In order that the exact season for collecting the juice may not be missed, the whole work must be gone through and finished in five or ten days. Moreover, the proper time for marking the pods must be accurately ascertained, for if the pods be cut say ten days before or after they are quite ripe, there is no yield of opium. As an instance of this it may be mentioned that in the plain of Broussa the experiment was made. Although the plants had reached their full growth, the pods were marked or cut both before and after the exact time when the operation should have been performed, and consequently there was no yield of opium. Sometimes it happens that a dry wind begins to blow at the very time when the poppy pods should be cut, and the atmosphere becomes chilly in consequence. During such weather the yield of opium is very small. The pods also should not be cut when it is raining, for the rain washes away and destroys the juice as fast as it exudes from the seams that have been cut for it.

After the opium crop has been gathered in, the pods change their previous hue of either green or yellow to rose color; when this change takes place the poppy plants should be taken up by the roots one by one and collected into small bundles. Each bundle should then be bound by a young green withe, and then so placed upright in the ground that the roots of the plants be covered, in which position they should remain for a few days until the seed contained within the pods shall have become thoroughly matured and dry. Then the pods should be threshed with a stick until they break open, when the seed may be collected.

"Another method is to sever the stem of the plant at the knot which is to be found close up to the pod, with the finger and thumb, and after collecting the ends so severed to spread them out to dry in some open place, and then to break them open by threshing, or else to pull them to pieces, and, after sifting the seed until it is quite free from extraneous matter, to collect it.

"At Karahissar they purposely burn most of the pods and reduce them to ashes, a fluid extracted from which they use to bleach cotton, on the ground that it is more effective than the water strained off from ordinary ashes.

"After extracting the oil from the poppy seed, there remains a sediment technically called "kyusebe," on which buffalo, cows, and black kine generally are fed, on the ground that such diet increases the amount of milk, and so of 'caimak' (cream)."—Phar. Jour. and Trans. May 18, 1883, p. 918.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 55, 1883, was edited by John M. Maisch.