Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center

Vegetable Research and Extension

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Culinary Poppy

Breadseed poppies were primarily introduced from Eastern Europe where poppy seeds were used as a less expensive substitute for nuts in baked goods. When walnuts became widely available in stores, breadseed poppy production declined, and today seed companies mainly carry heirloom varieties. All plant parts except the seeds are toxic and contain alkaloids used to manufacture opium and morphine. It is legal to grow Papaver somniferum in the United States for garden and seed production purposes; it is illegal to manufacture opium from the poppies.

Photo of poppy fieldPhoto of live poppy headsPhoto of dry poppy heads

Cultivation

Breadseed poppy is a 2–3 feet tall hardy annual plant that will overwinter in milder climates. Poppies do best in soil that is high in calcium, finely textured, and in full sun. Sow seeds in late fall through early spring directly into the field or garden. Seed sown in late fall will overwinter and germinate the following spring. Seedlings are cold hardy and plants will form the largest blossoms and seedheads when grown in cool weather. Poppies do not transplant well. If you transplant, sow in flats 4–5 weeks before the last frost and be careful not to damage roots when transplanting seedlings from trays to the field or garden. If you wish to save seed, isolate each poppy variety from other poppy varieties by at least 250 feet.

Broadcast seeds thinly or sow in rows 8–10 inches apart for hand cultivation and 12 to 24 inches apart for mechanical cultivation. Seeding rate is 3 pounds per acre or 0.1 ounce per 100 square feet. Rake in gently or lightly cover seeds with 1/8 inch of soil. If planted in spring, keep seed bed moist until emergence (7–28 days). Thin early, but delay final thinning until milder spring weather when plants are 6 inches tall. Final spacing in the row should be 6–8 inches. Plants will flower in late spring to early summer, and seed pods will mature in mid to late summer (80–90 days after planting). Poppies will readily self-seed the following year if seedheads are not removed from plants.

Harvest Tips

If weather is too wet when seeds are fully ripe, harvest seedheads and hang indoors upside down inside a paper bag to dry completely.

Varieties

Breadseed Poppy

Smooth gray scalloped leaves, pink, purple, and red flowers and big seedheads.
Sources: Bountiful Gardens

Elka Poppy

A white-seeded variety from central Slovakia. Seed heads are up to 1½ inches wide and 2 inches high and produce white poppy seeds. About 75% of the heads do not have vents which reduces seed loss. According to Fedco Seeds, this variety is named in honor of the old woman in Slovakia who is the last person left who continues to grow the variety in her area. Elka seed is sweeter than black-seeded varieties, with a more nutlike taste, none of the bitterness, and over 50% more oil content, making perhaps the best-quality edible oil in central Europe.
Sources: Fedco Seeds

Heirloom Pepperbox

A hardy annual that may overwinter in milder climates. Gray-green plants send up nodding stems of large papery-textured blossoms in purple, red and pale lilac-pink with dark center blotches. After the petals drop, seedheads develop blue-black nutty tasting seeds. Harvest when seedpods are dry by shaking seeds out of vents.
Sources: Renee’s Garden Seeds, Kitchen Garden Seeds

Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy

3–4 inch purple-blue flowers and seeds used for culinary purposes.
Sources: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seeds of Change

Hungarian Breadseed Poppy

Eastern European heirloom with white to pale lavender flowers followed by urn-shaped decorative seedheads filled with blue-black seeds.
Sources: Renee’s Garden Seeds

Ziar Poppy

This variety has single-petaled light lavender petals with dark red centers and originated from Ziar, Slovakia. It has unusually sweet seeds and large seed heads. The 2 inch tall seedheads have been bred to have closed vents to prevent seed from leaking out. Seed flavor is sweeter than other varieties and with none of the bitterness.
Sources: Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, Hope Seeds, Fedco Seed

Resources

Duke, James A. 1983. Papaver somniferum. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

Richter, Conrad. Poppy seed Production in Canada. Online Q&A forum: Richters Herbs.

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